Cong. Netivot Shalom won Monday’s bankruptcy auction for the Teaneck headquarters of the Union for Traditional Judaism and its sister organization, the Institute of Traditional Judaism, ending months of speculation about the fate of the building, the organizations, and the ginormous red oak tree outside.
“We’re happy to report that the court approved the highest and best bid today from Netivot Shalom,” said Janice Grubin, UTJ’s bankruptcy attorney, shortly after the auction.
The Modern Orthodox Netivot Shalom, which has met in the UTJ building on the corner of Palisade Avenue and Cedar Lane for several years, entered a bid of $1.24 million. Real estate developer 333 Realty, which had won an August auction for the property with a bid of $1.45 million, had decided not to move forward at that price, according to court documents. It entered the Nov. 1 auction with a bid of $1.2 million, but would not go higher.
UTJ declared bankruptcy in May and its leaders decided to sell its headquarters to cover its debts. Netivot Shalom and UTJ sparred earlier this year over rent and Netivot Shalom’s right of first refusal if UTJ sought to sell the building. As part of the sale, the parties have agreed to waive all previous claims against each other, Grubin said. A court order memorializing the sale was expected by the end of the week, after which the parties will have 30 days to close on the property.
Netivot Shalom raised $400,000 through a capital campaign to help defray the costs of the purchase. The details of the mortgage have yet to be worked out, said president Pamela Scheininger, but the synagogue will be able to close by the deadline.
“Our membership has been very supportive in all areas,” she said. “This has been a tough time for the shul and the membership has really stood by the shul and now they’re doing so financially.”
Adding to the synagogue’s new sense of permanency, it held an installation Sunday for its new rabbi, Nathaniel Helfgot, who joined the congregation in August. Monday’s auction ended months of wondering if the synagogue would have to find a new home. It will now be able to focus on expanding its programming, particularly with its youth groups, Scheininger said.
“Being able to have this certainty is a tremendous relief to us, and we’re optimistic about the future,” she said.
The sale also puts to rest questions about the fate of a centuries-old red oak tree on the property. Controversy erupted in July when UTJ began work to remove the tree, which 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. The state Division of Parks and Forestry named the tree to its “Big Tree” list last month, recognizing it as the fourth largest red oak in the state.
“We have no plans for its removal,” Scheininger said. “The tree’s important to us and its preservation remains important to us.”
The Teaneck-based Puffin Foundation stepped into the picture in September with an offer to the successful bidder of up to $200,000 to pay for an easement to maintain the tree. Asked if Netivot Shalom would take advantage of the offer, Scheininger said, “We are presently looking into the various options with respect to preserving the tree and will be speaking to the interested parties within the next few days.”
Now that the winning bid has been settled, UTJ and ITJ are beginning to make plans for their future, said Rabbi Ronald Price, UTJ’s executive vice president, who was hopeful that the organizations would have a new home before the as-yet-undetermined closing date. The organizations are negotiating a rental agreement with a new location, he said, although he would not divulge it.
“The moment we knew that the auction was completed, we were meeting with a property owner we will probably be renting from, if all goes well, not too far from where we are now,” he said.
Now that the auction is over, Price is optimistic that UTJ and ITJ will emerge from Chapter 11 by the end of the year. “I believe that we will move on to better things in the future, and I hope the building will serve a valuable purpose (for the new owners),” he said.