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Queens Residents, Powerful Synagogue At Odds Over Proposed Orthodox ‘Dormitory’

Neighbors Say The Combining Of 5 Single-Family Homes Is Not Kosher
Grand Rebbe Menachem Schneerson

Grand Rebbe Menachem Schneerson (Photo: Chabad-Lubavitch)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Some neighbors in Cambria Heights, Queens are fighting a synagogue’s plan to expand a building in a cemetery, where already hundreds of worshipers pray each day.

It attracts Orthodox Jews from New York and the world over. They want to visit the resting place of this religious leader Menachem Schneerson, Grand Rebbe of Lubavitcher Hasidim, who died in 1994. He’s buried next to his predecessor and father and law.

“He was like an angel of God, loved all people, all humanity,” Rabbi Martin Liebowitz told CBS 2’s John Slattery on Friday.

But how much love can a neighborhood stand? The place: the Old Montifiore Cemetery on Francis Lewis Boulevard, where crowds come, especially on the high holy days. A community center has been constructed near the graves, behind five single-family homes owned by the Lubavitchers.

But now, the congregation wants to join all five homes into one large structure that would essentially be a dormitory.

“Why do you need sleeping quarters?” neighbor Dorothy Miller wondered.

Miller, who has lived in the area 30 years, said the plan for 52 beds would bring more traffic, less parking, and more trash to her neighborhood.

“They’re very disruptive when they come to the neighborhood. They have no respect for us. We’re just opposed to their wanting to expand,” Miller said.

Another neighbor posed the question: would you want a motel a few doors from your house?

A spokesman for the movement said there are no hard plans drawn up, and couldn’t speak to it.

“As I said, I can’t comment on the proposal because it’s pending,” said Rabbi Abba Rebson of Ohel Chabad Lubavitch.

The people who live in the modest homes and always had the solitude of a cemetery nearby, now find their homes in the path of a pilgrimage that keeps growing and growing.

The issue must go before the zoning board and would require a variance for approval in the predominantly residential area.

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