Wednesday, January 03, 2007

An Unexpected By-product

"Mall Menorah Smackdown" by Debra Nussbaum Cohen (printed in this weeks New York Magazine)

Just in time for the Atlantic Yards project to break ground, a turf war has erupted between two Lubavitch rabbis claiming dibs on the rapidly gentrifying brownstone neighborhoods that surround it. In one corner is Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum, who showed up in Prospect Heights three years ago to revive a decrepit Orthodox synagogue in the neighborhood, and recently opened what he has dubbed the Brooklyn Jewish Community Center in a donated space over a former laundromat. His rival is Rabbi Tali Frankel, who is backed by his wife's powerful uncle, Rabbi Shimon Hecht of Park Slope. After arriving eighteen months ago, he began holding events advertised as being sponsored by "Chabad of Prospect Heights" -- though Kirschenbaum is the neighborhood's sole officially recognized shaliach, or emissary, of the Hasidic sect, which sends married couples all over the world to spread the faith to less-observant Jews. Lubavitchers usually do not invade each other's area, but now both Kirschenbaum and Frankel are hosting Torah study sessions, holiday parties in bars, and low-key services in people's homes trying to connect the nabe's mostly young Jewish population with traditional texts and observance. Frankel seems to be trying to appeal to singles specifically, with event listings in Hecht's Brownstone Jewish Review touting "stories food and booze!"

Hecht has controlled the Park Slope fiefdom for twenty years, and has helped seed Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, Cobble Hill, and Williamsburg with colleagues. Tensions flared over Hanukkah, when Hecht commandeered Krischenbaum's nine-foot tall menorah in the Atlantic Terminal Mall. Kirschenbaum dealt with the mall and set up the menorah, holding a party (paid for by Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner) on the Sunday of Hanukkah that attracted a few hundred people. But Hecht's group sponsored festivities at Kirschenbaum's menorah on Saturday (Hecht declined t0 comment on Prospect Heights.)

The Lubavitch powers that be have had enough. Rabbi Kasriel Kastel, who supervises the New York-area Lubavitch emissaries, filed a lawsuit against Hecht in rabbinical court alleging that he has overstepped his boundaries by bringing his nephew into an area where another Lubavitch rabbi was already holding officially sanctioned activities. Kastel says the problem is that there aren't enough up-and-coming areas to go around. "There are maybe 100 or 200 guys who trained their whole lives, and are looking for an opportunity to go. Smaller communities which would never be considered before are getting people," and conflicts between rabbis are increasing, he says. "It comes with growth and gentrification."

Anybody who knows Kirschenbaum, would tell you outright that he would never hang his laundry in the press. he is wise beyond his years, non confrontational and caring. In fact he has taken the highroad for the past 3 years as hecht has time and again publicly disrespected kirschenbaum's official position as the prospect heights shliach by taking out ads in public papers as well as his own fictional publication and writing letters in public, placing them on public forum in which he used to try and misguide local residents. kirschnbaum has never dignified anything negative or responded to the many slurs and insults hurled at him. And for that he is to be lauded. What he has accomplished in his short time is simply historic.

For the record, for those of you who simply make comments based on a three piece paragraph in a ny magazine, it would be wise to consider the following.. The author Debra N. Cohen is a local brooklyn resident who has had her issues with rabbi hecht in the past and through the power of the pen used her talent primarily at poking at orthodoxy and lubavitch in particular, both in her capacity as editor of the jewish week of ny and other media outlets. Simply put, she lives, hears, sees and understands all that transpires in a neighborhood no larger some of the starbucks in ny city. You don't have to be a genius to see the transparency in hects actions as they relate to Kirschenbaum and the prospect heights community. Interesting though, as a fort greene resident myself and part time attendee to kol Israel synagogue through the years, I can honestly say that for the 20 years he has resided in park slope he hasn't once done anything on behalf of our beloved house of worship and its jewish community, he wouldn't know if Charlton was a street name or an animated fictional children's character. Its obvious to all. What does Kirschenbaum stand to gain by letting the locals know that there is a rift by putting into the public domain? Wouldn't that make him look bad too? Where's

As far as hecht's relationship with the other local Chabad rabbi's in the area. clearly stated. He does not get along with anybody, rabbi pinson no longer gives a class at his temple and hasn't for some time now, and has opened his own synagogue. R. cheikoff in dumbo is no longer under his nephew's (raskin's) jurisdiction now that the official Chabad board has removed him from his authority. So much for them all getting along. What's interesting is, is that hecht and his own nephew cant get along themselvesunless of course their united in destroying someone else. And indeed, hecht and his cronies (namely family members) should indeed feel threatened, for as Kirschenbaum, pinson and cheikoff continue to gain steam and popularity throughout brownstone brooklyn hecht is still stuck in the batters looking at a called strike three. To be sure pinson and Kirschenbaum give wonderful lectures and are warm human beings, something none has ever accused hecht of being.

If only the man focused on cultivating his own area of park slope, large enough to contain 2-3 additional lubavitch rabbi's as well as many more jewish organizations, his life and legacy would be better off, but alas he is too worried about others people success. Indeed a shame. Poor frankel who works hard to make a living as a Judaica store cashier who innocently moved into an apartment owned by a hecht suporter only to be exploited by his own uncle for his personal agenda. Manipulation in the highest degree. The poor guy probably does not know what hit him.

and mr. atlas, while i most of the time i find myself disagreeing with you, i must say you are right on the money on this one.
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