Future of Union for Traditional Judaism sale uncertain

Future of Union for Traditional Judaism sale uncertain

The Union for Traditional Judaism’s Teaneck headquarters sold at auction early last month, but a motion filed last week in U.S. bankruptcy court last week cast doubt on the transaction.

UTJ’s attorney, Janice Grubin, filed a motion on Aug. 27 requesting an extension for her client to file a Chapter 11 plan. Extending this period of exclusivity, during which the debtor can create a plan to pull itself out of bankruptcy without imposed outside solutions, is not atypical in bankruptcy cases, she said. The property went to auction on Aug. 4, which was won by 333 Realty for $1.45 million.

“In the normal course of Chapter 11 cases, debtors often move for extension of their exclusive period to file a plan and solicit acceptances thereto,” she said. “This is a very common motion filed by Chapter 11 debtors.”

Within the motion, however, is language that puts the sale into doubt. A section listing cause to extend the exclusive period references “a significant unresolved contingency still exists – namely, the Sale with an approved buyer, 333 Realty LLC, who, it now appears, may not close.”

Grubin based that concern on communication with 333 Realty.

According to the motion, UTJ intends to address the issue soon, which may include canceling the sale and going to a new auction in mid-October.

Jack Zakim, 333 Realty’s attorney, told The Jewish Standard on Monday that his client has no plans to break its contract with UTJ. Nor, he said, has a decision been made as to how his client plans to develop the property.

The real estate company is, however, engaged in discussions with a group of Teaneck conservationists who want to save the massive oak tree on the property.

“There’s a lot of moving parts here and it keeps changing every day,” he said.

The motion has raised hopes at Netivot Shalom, the modern Orthodox synagogue that has met in UTJ for more than 10 years, that 333 Realty would not purchase the building and the synagogue would have another chance to buy it.

“Our preference far and away would be to stay in the present location,” the shul’s president, Pamela Scheininger said. “We’d like to speak to UTJ again about acquiring the property. It’s always been our objective.”

Netivot Shalom began a capital campaign earlier this week to raise funds to buy the building. A goal has been set, but Scheininger would not comment on it since it had not yet been revealed to the membership.

“We are confident we will be able to raise the funds necessary to secure Netivot Shalom’s future,” she said.

Netivot Shalom filed paperwork to make a bid during last month’s bankruptcy auction, but did not bid in the Aug. 4 auction.

“We have looked at everything that has been suggested to us,” Scheininger said. “We have not ruled out anything at this point.”

UTJ declared bankruptcy in May and its leaders decided to sell its headquarters to cover its debts. Controversy erupted in July when the union began work to remove a large oak tree that towers over the property. Union leaders argued that safety concerns prompted them to seek the tree’s removal, while the tree’s supporters argued that the removal was a ploy to get more money for the property. The tree, estimated to be between 200 and 300 years old, is considered the oldest in Teaneck.

Spurred by protests and petitions by eco-activists, the Teaneck township council took up the issue at its July meeting and considered bidding on the property to save the tree. The council ultimately decided not to intervene, but UTJ left the tree up through the auction. UTJ has asked for written proposals from whoever is interested in preserving the tree but has not received any, Grubin said.

“We’re doing our best to maximize the debtors’ assets,” she said. “Whether that is with or without the tree is still an open issue.”

Until a closing date is decided upon, UTJ finds itself unable to make other housing arrangements.

“We’ve shopped for a number of different sites that look very appealing to us,” said Rabbi Ronald Price, UTJ’s executive vice president, “but until the building closes we really can’t take a chance on signing a lease with somebody else.”

When it entered bankruptcy, UTJ secured financing that will keep it “in reasonably healthy shape” for six to 12 months, Price said. A planning committee to examine a post-Chapter 11 future for the union gave its first report at a board meeting Monday night, but the board decided against making the report public.

“We see the current situation as something that will eventually pass, God willing,” Price said.

Judge Robert Drain is expected to hear UTJ’s motion in U.S. bankruptcy court in White Plains, N.Y., on Sept. 13.

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