People who live near the Rockwood Park Jewish Center, Howard Beach’s only Orthodox synagogue, have a message for its rabbi:
This is a residential neighborhood, not a place for nightclubs.
The temple, located at 156-45 84 St. near the Belt Parkway and in the heart of a residential area, has been a venue for parties featuring live music, and residents say the events are bringing in patrons who have been causing problems in the neighborhood late at night. After nearly a year of problems, the synagogue’s leadership may have finally gotten the message.
Fearing retaliation from either the temple, the event promoters or the partygoers themselves, many residents did not want to talk publicly about the issue, though at least four neighbors acknowledged the problem existed before declining to comment. Those who were willing to talk did not want to be identified.
“We don’t mind that they’re having parties, especially if they need the money,” said one resident of 85th Street, whose house faces the rear of the Jewish center. “But they should be more respectful to their neighbors.”
Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton said the board has received numerous complaints about noise and disorderly conduct in the community near the center. A source at the 106th Precinct acknowledged that police have been called to the area in the past because of incidents that may have stemmed from parties at the venue.
Event promoters linked the center’s Facebook page to fliers advertising events to be hosted there. Live DJs performed at events on Feb. 6 and March 23. Some of the advertisements were written in Spanish and listed the venue as “Rockwood Center,” using the address of the synagogue.
A party that had been scheduled for Saturday, May 25 was to have featured live music and a bikini fashion show, but a source with knowledge of the situation said that event and all future scheduled events were canceled after police got word that liquor would be served at the May 25 party. The Rockwood Park Jewish Center does not have a liquor license and the flier for the party offered liquor specials.
As of press time Wednesday, the flier still is posted on Facebook and linked to the Rockwood Park Jewish Center’s page. Repeated calls for comment made to the synagogue went unanswered as of press time.
The center suffered extensive damage in Hurricane Sandy and multiple sources say the synagogue has had financial trouble recently. The Howard Beach Senior Center operated out of the temple’s basement until Sandy and was forced to permanently relocate. It is now operating in St. Helen’s Father Dooley Hall, directly across the street from the Rockwood Park Jewish Center. The senior center is scheduled to move into the new senior housing development in the Bernard Fineson Center on Cross Bay Boulevard later this year. A religious school and an early intervention program also operates on the Rockwood Park Jewish Center’s property.
But one resident who lives on 85th Street said the parties date back to before Sandy.
“It’s been going on at least a year,” he said, noting the partygoers use the St. Helen’s parking lot and take up most of the street parking in the neighborhood. “It has become more frequent since the hurricane. Some of the parties start at midnight and last until five o’clock in the morning.”
He noted that the partygoers come in from elsewhere.“These people are definitely not members of the synagogue, they’re definitely not from this area,” he said, adding that neighbors have attempted to reach out to the rabbi, but have gotten no response.
The resident and another who lives on 83rd Street, identifying herself only as Anna, said the parties are predominantly on Saturday nights and patrons often leave broken beer and liquor bottles in the street near St. Helen Church.
“They congregate in the parking lot at 3 a.m.,” Anna said. “When you have the windows open, you can hear them.”
One of her neighbors said she has seen cars sit idle in the parking lot directly next to St. Helen school before and after parties at the synagogue.
The resident of 85th Street said neighbors are especially concerned in the wake of Hurricane Sandy since the problem has only exacerbated the already-existing anxiety of the storm’s aftermath.
“I guess we’re all just a little on edge since the storm,” she said. “There have been reports of burglaries, break-ins and car thefts in the neighborhood. We don’t know who we’re dealing with.”