A group of Queens residents is facing backlash after staging a protest against a possible homeless shelter outside of a Long Island synagogue over the weekend.
Residents who would rather see a special-needs school at the site of a former mill factory in Glendale boarded buses on Saturday and headed for property owner Michael Wilner’s home in Jericho. As first reported by the Queens Courier, when the group realized no one was home they decided to protest outside of Wilner’s synagogue — a move that was met by outrage from congregants of Temple Or Elohim as well as two politicians.
“Protesting outside a person’s synagogue on the Sabbath because they might not develop their private property the way you want is a grotesque act of anti-Semitism and fully deserves our unqualified condemnation,” City Councilman Rory Lancman, who represents parts of Queens, said in a statement Tuesday. “The so-called ‘Glendale Middle Village Coalition’ members should be ashamed of themselves, and should apologize for their repugnant conduct.”
A request for comment from Temple Or Elohim was not immediately returned. On Saturday, cantor David Katz said he was “livid” over the protest, which had “nothing to do with the temple,” the Queens Courier reported.
Amid the uproar, protest organizer Michael Papa suggested on Tuesday that Lancman is using the protest to bolster his campaign for Queens district attorney.
"I will not allow him to turn this peaceful rally to promote a plan sponsored by our district Councilman Robert Holden to build a school for handicapped children in our community into another fabricated case of anti-Semitism,” Papa told amNewYork. “This has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with community. Mr. Lancman should be ashamed of himself for trying to divide people along religious lines.”
Holden, however, also condemned the synagogue protest. In a Facebook post on Monday, Holden said that while he supported his constituents’ initial plans to protest outside of Wilner’s home, going to the synagogue was not appropriate.
“When I found out that the protesters went to the synagogue I immediately condemned the organizers for it in person and I reiterated this condemnation in an online statement,” Holden said on Tuesday. “I agree that it is repugnant conduct and the organizers of the rally should apologize.”
Though renovations are ongoing, it remains unclear what Wilner plans to do with the old factory at 78-16 Cooper Ave. Wilner could not be reached for comment Tuesday after calls to his realty management company went unanswered.
Holden has said the city does not have a contract — for a homeless shelter, or otherwise — associated with the property.
“I’m working with the city on an alternative — smaller shelters run by faith-based organizations in Community Board 5,” the councilman said last week. “We have churches here with the space willing to work with families and smaller groups.”
Residents’ fears over the fate of the building aren’t completely unfounded.
After years of rumors swirling around a possible homeless shelter, Wilner filed paperwork last year that would allow the building to become a transient lodging house. However, he hasn’t scheduled a review that the Department of Buildings requires in order to approve the change and a Department of Homeless Services spokeswoman said last week that nothing has been officially decided with regard to the property.