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Queens Chronicle

Ohr Natan sold to make apartments

Jewish center serving hundreds of people fights developer to stay open

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:39 am, Thu Aug 8, 2013.

UPDATE

The developer, Meir Babaev of Trylon LLC, who could not be reached before this article was written, insisted on Friday that what is alleged here is false, and that the center will be allowed to stay where it is. See a full follow-up story in next week's Queens Chronicle and here at qchron.com.

On July 25, Ohr Natan — a community outreach center at 98-12 66 Ave. in Rego Park — celebrated its 27th anniversary.

But while most groups would propose toasts and reminisce about the good times, the Jewish center is faced with a possible, indeed probable, dilemma.

They are being evicted.

“They are making us leave” said rabbi Nahum Kaziev, who runs the center. “They told us that we didn’t have potential. Potential means money.”

Kaziev said that when Ohr Natan signed the lease with 99th Street Realty, the group invested heavily in renovating a rundown site into an up-to-date facility for religious practices and community affairs.

“When we came here, we put a lot of money into it,” Kaziev said. “We cleaned it up and tried to keep as much of the original interior as we could.”

As the building is zoned as R7-1, the property can legally become a high-rise residential tower, an idea the rabbi said would push the neighborhood past its breaking point.

The facility is named after Natan Yakubov, a man who, during the Soviet period, risked his freedom to teach Bukharian youth Hebrew and Judaism. When he immigrated to the United States in 1977, he sought to continue his teachings. In 1986, when Yakubov died, his daughter, Dr. Miriam Natan, organized the facility to perpetuate Yakubov’s memory through community outreach work.

In its early years, with no headquarters, the group drifted from synagogues to schools each week but quickly became the “go-to” place for citizenship classes and lessons in Judaism.

In 2002, Ohr Natan set up shop at the site of the former Trylon Theatre, which was built in 1939 and operated until 2000.

Now with real estate company Massey Knakal at the helm, the entire property, known as the Trylon Triangle, has been sold to a developer who wishes to turn the building residential, in what the rabbi suggests was a questionable deal.

“This is only about money,” he said. “In the Fall of 2012 we made an offer which was the highest offer but the broker decided to go with the current buyer. We later found out that there was an under-the-table deal made and the new developer paid cash.”

The new developer’s name was not available but the real estate company insisted that there was no wrongdoing and that all procedures were followed by the book.

“Everything was done to code,” a spokesman from Massey Knakal said. “It was a bidding war and he was outbid, but we have no knowledge of anything illegal going on. This gentleman was out to get us from the get-go.”

The rabbi insists that this is not the case.

“We had the money to buy it,” he said. “We even bid more than the asking price. It is not as if this is a failing center. This is a succesful, thriving place where many people call home. We have more and more members every year.”

Though the fate of Ohr Natan is unclear, the rabbi said he is not thinking about what the group will do if they are evicted.

“We can’t think of eviction right now,” he said. “They are trying to get us out of here as soon as possible but our community is prepared to fight as hard as we can. Some have even said they would stand in front of the trucks to stop them from knocking it down. The people are standing behind us.”

In fact, on the organization’s anniversary last Thursday, more than 500 residents and elected officials including Rep. Grace Meng (D-Bayside) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) were in attendance.

“The mood is hopeful,” Kaziev said. “We have God on our side and we have faith that he will help us.”

Welcome to the discussion.