Synagogue building's sale fuels anxieties

The Congregation Beth Emeth synagogue in Hewlett. (July

The Congregation Beth Emeth synagogue in Hewlett. (July 20, 2012) (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)

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Angst has gripped a citizens group in Hewlett, where residents say they fear the sale of a synagogue could alter the village's south end.

Congregation Beth Emeth, a Reconstructionist synagogue, closed Friday on the sale of its Franklin Avenue building for $2.4 million to Kingdom Resources Inc. and Pastor Elsie Obed, president of New York City-based Lilies International Christian Outreach.

Members of the Hewlett Residents Association say Obed's group has declined to respond to questions about what they intend to do with the building.

Those concerns are stoked, association members said, by the Lilies website, which depicts the organization as a Gospel-focused ministry group that holds religious services in the city with several hundred attendants. Beth Emeth's membership is about 100 families.

More than 50 people attended a residents group meeting two weeks ago, many voicing concerns about traffic and parking. Others speculated about what Lilies intends to do with the building, which can hold about 300 people.

"People are left with more questions than answers," association member Stephen Krown said. "One would think they would just say, 'Hey, this is who we are.' "

Obed did not return numerous phone calls and emails from Newsday seeking comment.

A Lilies representative declined to comment. The organization holds weekly religious services at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and runs a school on Roosevelt Island in Queens.

The organization's website states its mission is to "propagate the gospel and increase God-consciousness globally."

Larry Kalvar, president of Beth Emeth, announced the sale and said the congregation would move to Rockville Centre but declined to comment about Obed and her ministry.

"We have had a long and rewarding life in the Five Towns, and we wish the community well in the future," Kalvar said in a statement.

Rabbi Elliot Skiddell praised his own congregation in a statement but declined to talk about the sale.

Members of the Hewlett Residents Association said at last week's meeting that Hempstead Town should intervene. The town will only get involved if the building's new owners perform construction or dramatically change the building's use, town spokesman Mike Deery said.

Obed does not need town approval to operate the building as a religious facility, Deery said.

"To change from one religious use to another, they would not have to go before the board," he said.

But residents remain concerned about the future of the building, which is in a dense residential and commercial area with limited parking, said Peter Halperin, a member of the citizens group.

"That's the mystery," he said. "They haven't said what they are going to use the building for."

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