Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Chabad territorial conflict in Prospect Heights

R' Shimon Hecht, long-time rav in Park Slope, has come to the negative attention of the mainstream media. He and another rav in a neighboring area have unfortunately gotten into a territory fight.

It's a shame that it's happening, but I really can't blame him for feeling threatened. He and his wife have almost singlehandedly built up Orthodoxy in Park Slope. From its beginnings as the splinter mechitza minyan from Park Slope Jewish Center in 1984, Congregation Bnai Jacob is now well over 100 families, with a Hebrew School, adult education almost every day, a daily minyan, etc. I suppose the time was ripe for a splinter group.

We left the area just as the shul was beginning to grow a lot. I suppose it was synchronicity that precipitated this conflict. As real estate in the central Slope grew more expensive, more people moved to the fringes (South Slope, Prospect Heights). Meanwhile, for many years, R' Hecht and his nephew R' Raskin in Brooklyn Heights, through their Rabbinical Committee of Brownstone Brooklyn, were the Orthodox presence west of Prospect Park and south of the Manhattan Bridge.

As more religious Jews moved into the Grand Army Plaza area, there were also some odd political rumblings at Bnai Jacob. They coalesced into the UTJ-sponsored Montauk Minyan. When the Montauk Minyan broke up, R' Kirschenbaum, a younger, more dynamic Chabad rabbi, had become assistant rabbi at the dying Orthodox synagogue on St. Johns Place near Underhill Avenue (my great-uncle had been chazan there 50-60 years ago). So the crowd that had become disaffected with R' Hecht gravitated there, especially as it was closer to home for many. Meanwhile, more Jews were moving into converted industrialized buildings in Prospect Heights, who found a home in Kol Israel.

Chabad is territorial. Shluchim are sent to bring people to Judaism in a particular geographic area. In Bangkok, well, you don't have a lot of competition. In Brooklyn, competition for Jews is all but inevitable. In fact, it's just what happened at the inception of Chassidus. Much Misnagdic opposition was economic - the Chasidim recruited from the membership of the established synagogues, which reduced the income of those synagogues. R' Hecht is now on the back end of that competition.

So in a very real way, the Hechts must feel threatened. The area that they have built up over the past 20 years, is suddenly losing people to a nearby area. It's sad that it has to come to a suit in Beis Din, but not completely unexpected, as the Hecht family has long had disputes with the Chabad leadership in Crown Heights; that R' Kirschenbaum appears to be exploting that dispute, hmm. They have, however, had good relations with other Chabad rabbis in the area, e.g. R' Dovber Pinson, who bought a loft near Atlantic Avenue, and has built a yeshiva in DUMBO. R' Pinson collaborates with both R' Hecht and R' Raskin, teaching in both shuls as well as other places.

Full disclosure: my wife & I lived in Park Slope for 10 years, where we belonged to Cong. Bnai Jacob. It was a great place to grow into observant Jews. The Hechts' great strength is with beginners, and they have helped many to grow, even to outgrow them and move on. Even if R' Hecht and I were opposed on many issues, I have tried to maintain a positive connection with them since leaving the area in 2001 (we left mostly due to real estate issues).

YH"R that the Hechts and R' Kirschenbaum find an amicable modus vivendi. The Gemara in Megillah tells us that the blessing of God is peace (as we see in the Priestly Blessing). May G0d bring peace to the Heights, עושה שלום במרומיו, may He bring peace to us and to all Israel.

See also mentalblog and orthomom for parallel threads.


Anonymous said...

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.

Beth said...

You say "poor Frankel" is being exploited by his own uncle, who is his uncle by marriage by the way...Tali Frankel is not an exploitable person. He and his wife are not only strong caring colorful original personalities in their own right but embracing of diverse opinions such as my own.
I don't really understand why Rabbis are supposed to be warm and fuzzy...rather than the spiritual leaders of their congregations, able to give direction when needed. The warm and fuzzy part all too often usually deteriorates into just plain FUZZY. The Hechts were trying to serve a huge area, including Prospect Heights for 20+ ( before Rabbi Ari)years with the difficulties attendent in restoring their old/new shul which was in desperate need of repairs. The sanctuary is still not quite finished.... How could the Hechts possibly start working to "restore" yet another shul in Prospect Heights at this time. I have witnesssed the Hecht family extending themselves OVER and OVER again to members of my family... their actions speak louder than warm and fuzzy words...

Anonymous said...

Its interesting to read this post almost two years later, where there is still an issue with the Hechts.

Most of Bnai Jacob attends the shul despite of the Rabbi, not because of him. People attend there because there is nowhere else to go-non Chabad- in the neighborhood.

There is no Young Israel, no Moderb Orthdox Rav- it is a monetarily controlled area by Chabad.

The members of the shul send their children to day schools. They are not 'growing' into Chabad, but using a service due to the lack of others present.

The Hechts have wedged themselves into a perfect position. They have a lifetime contract and exist entirely independantly of their shul congregants. No one likes them, no one likes their product. The members travel to MAnhattan or Flatbush for shiurum, and direct questions to their personal Ravs.

Park Slope, to note, has one of the largest communities of Jews, many of whom day school graduates, who choose to attend the altshul, a indepednant minyan with egalitarian leanings in a reform shul, rather than Bnai Jacob. This probably can be attributed to the depth that modern orthodox, day school educated Jews do not like the Hechts, and attend elsewhere.

The fact that the HEchts have a lifetime contract and are manipulating Prospect Heights for their son is inconsequential. OVer 150 Jews now attend the altshul or walk out of the neighborhood, and it is only time before a Modern Orthodox shul comes to town and takes home in the community.

Anonymous said...

So Now after all that there arrives a true Orthodox Rav who is unaffiliated with Chabad in Park Slope/ Prospect Heights.
5772 and a new era in Brownstone Brooklyn and a new chance for Yiddishkeit to flourish in our hood

thanbo said...

Well, Anonymous of Rosh Hashanah, do tell something about this new rabbi. I don't see any mention of him in the Jewish Week. Is he setting up his own shul, or operating under the auspices of R Shimon Hecht and Sons? IIRC the main rav of Kol Israel was a non-Lubavitcher who depended on Chabad to send enough guys to make a minyan.

Anonymous said...

Last Shabbos that Imwas in KI seemed thriving and Prospect Heights Shul in a temporary site gets 45 people on Shabbos.

thanbo said...

Well, they recently had a paroxysm of bad shul politics at CBJ, so a lot of the old-timers left, and have switched to Prospect Heights Shul.

Sarah C. said...

Not sure what's going on history-wise, but I will say that I recently moved to the area, attended B'nai Jacob a few times and was less than impressed. There was only a handful of grim-looking people who were not terribly friendly. The rabbi would not even meet my eye, and his wife stayed mostly on the periphery during kiddush. There was one friendly, blustery old guy--can't remember his name but he was pleasantly chatty--and that was about it. Overall, very disappointing.

thanbo said...

Sarah: if it was after February, well, I'm not surprised. The blustery guy was probably Jack. But yes, they must be pretty grim, suddenly having to maintain an expensive building on fewer families.

As for not meeting your eye, he does that to most women. It's a Chasidic thing, I think.

You're not the Sarah C who used to live in the area, then went to Indianapolis?

Anonymous said...

Now seems that R Kirshenbum is planting his shoes in Kol Israel.
He is thru fighting for his territory and now wants to steal Cong Kol Israel from its Rav of 38 years