UTJ’s Teaneck building to go back on auction block

UTJ’s Teaneck building to go back on auction block

The Teaneck headquarters of the Union for Traditional Judaism and Institute of Traditional Judaism, which both declared bankruptcy earlier this year, is heading back to auction on Nov. 1.

Real estate development company 333 Realty won a previous auction this summer with a bid of $1.45 million for the property at 811 Palisade Ave. The buyer, however, decided not to move forward at that price, according to Janice Grubin, the bankruptcy attorney assigned to UTJ. A new price of $1.2 million was negotiated, but that has to receive court approval, and in order for that to happen, a new auction must take place.

“We have a responsibility to test the market,” Grubin told The Jewish Standard. “We have to make sure this is the highest and best price, and the only way to do that is to test the market.”

In the meantime, UTJ has submitted a controversial request to U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking approval to remove a tree on the property, if the new auction winner decides it does not want the tree. That hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18, but regardless of the decision, no action would be taken on the tree without the request of the new auction winner.

“The real estate market is very difficult these days, and the presence of the tree and the congregation that is still on the premises together with the difficulty of the real estate market were among the factors leading to this,” Grubin said.

The congregation refers to Netivot Shalom, a modern Orthodox synagogue of about 80 families that has met in the UTJ building for 10 years.

With the building heading back to auction, Netivot Shalom’s leaders are hopeful that the synagogue can make a successful bid. The congregation’s board sent out letters to its membership last month to help raise at least $400,000, which would allow the synagogue to cover a down payment on a bid.

“Our choice would be to remain in the building,” said Pamela Scheininger, the synagogue’s president. “We’re optimistic that this presents us with an opportunity to do that in a very serious way.”

Netivot Shalom filled out paperwork for the August auction but did not make a bid.

UTJ declared bankruptcy in May and its leaders decided to sell its headquarters to cover its debts. Controversy erupted in July when the organization 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 making a bid on the property to save the tree. The council ultimately decided not to intervene, but UTJ left the tree up through the auction.

The Puffin Foundation last month stepped into the picture with an offer of up to $200,000 to the successful bidder to maintain the tree.

Perry Rosenstein, the foundation’s president, said he is waiting for a document guaranteeing that the tree will be preserved.

The question remains one of liability, said Rabbi Ronald Price, UTJ’s executive vice president.

“People have expressed their feelings for the tree, and I certainly understand and share appreciation for its beauty, but the risk that comes along with it is significant,” he said.

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