Congregation fears Rego Park synagogue will be demolished

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A growing congregation in Rego Park fears their beloved synagogue will be demolished in the near future despite assurances from the site’s new owner that it will remain.

Supporters of the Ohr Natan synagogue, built in the former Trylon movie theater, have collected more than 1,300 petition signatures so far in their efforts to keep their congregation on site.

They say new property owners, Trylon LLC, have plans to demolish the house of worship and temporarily move the congregation in about four years when their contract expires.

“My life has changed because of this synagogue,” said Ester Davidov, a congregation member. “We don’t want this to be destroyed. It means everything now.”

Rabbi Nahum Kaziev, who heads Ohr Natan, said the synagogue sees about 1,000 people weekly and almost 50,000 annually.

“It is a first home to some people, a second home to others,” he said. “We have survivors from World War II and the Holocaust.”

Ohr Natan took over the property’s lease in 2002 and poured $2.1 million into renovations, Kaziev said.

The synagogue distributes food to 480 needy families a week, he added. It also offers kids’ programs, free language classes and “around the clock” support.

“This home might be destroyed. It is unthinkable,” Kaziev said. “It is a holy place. Small houses of worship mean more to people.”

But site owner Simon Alishaev, who is also the president of the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in Rego Park, said a demolition is not in the plans.

Any changes made to the building would not happen for at least five years, he added.

“We’re not developing anything for now. We’re not closing or breaking down the synagogue,” Alishaev said. “We’re not throwing anybody in the street.”

It would remain a synagogue, he said, but under new leadership and with more programs and services.

Still some congregation members said they wanted their synagogue untouched.

“It’s hurtful,” said Miriam Ilyaev. “We’re all praying it gets resolved.”