News & Politics

Jazzy Rabbi Greg Wall Caught in Middle As Jews Feud Over East Village Synagogue’s Future


Jews are hurling curses at one another in a bitter fight between old-timers and new members over a recruitment drive to save the ailing Sixth Street Community Synagogue in the East Village.

At a recent meeting at the 70-year-old shul, congregants were practically throwing bagels and whitefish at one another and the police were almost called in, the Jewish Week reports. Even the congregation’s new rabbi, jazz saxophonist Greg Wall (see music video on jump), was quoted as saying he is “helpless” to stop the controversy — so heated that even the dreaded word “Inquisition” is being bandied about.

In recent years, the synagogue had so few members it was in danger of closing. The aging leadership turned to a Lubavitcher rabbi named Simon Jacobson, who runs the Meaningful Life Center in the shul basement.

But the recruitment drive led by Jacobson (who isn’t the shul’s rabbi) backfired when Jacobson’s recruits (many of them Lubavitcher Chabadniks, who are among the most aggressive evangelists of Judaism among non-religious Jews) joined in droves, taking over the synagogue. Now the old timers are calling them carpetbaggers and accuse them of not even attending shul there.

“The idea wasn’t that they wanted to conduct a ‘Who is a Jew’ inquisition,” Rabbi Wall was quoted as saying of the old members. Wall added, “”If I had known that I was being courted for the job as rabbi while this was going on, I don’t know how involved I would’ve become.” (Jacobson’s tenure as the shul’s unofficial recruiter predates Wall’s arrival last fall as rabbi.)

Wall, a noted jazz saxophonist, is arguably much more hip than Jacobson. But this is definitely an old vs. new battle among the congregants: While the congregation’s long-time, aging members do their traditional thing, Jacobson’s shtick blends Orthodox teachings with Hasidic rap, Kabbalah, and tai chi, and he conducts tele-webinars on such topics as “The Soul of Purim.”

More to the point, say some critics, the Chabadniks might be interested in the shul for more nefarious reasons. As argues in “Chabad Move To Take Over NYC Shul Blocked – For Now”:

Chabad has a history of similar conflicts, both in New York City and worldwide. At the root of most of those conflicts seems to be Chabad’s desire to get ownership of valuable real estate for little or no cost.

And as a commenter notes on the FailedMessiah piece:

This is not the first time Chabad has done this in shuls that have only a few elderly members but have valuable real estate, many Torahs and huge bank accounts and stock portfolios. It’s like a hostile takeover. Someone has got to come up with a poison pill for these situations.


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