ELTINGVILLE, Staten Island — Kars4Kids, a car donation charity, made millions in the last decade with a catchy jingle and a program that greatly benefitted Orthodox Jewish children and families.
But the members of Young Israel — a modern Orthodox synagogue in the Eltingville section of Staten Island — told PIX11 the non-profit behind Kars4Kids is trying to kick them out of their long-time home.
“An agreement was entered into, unbeknownst to the membership,” said Max Robek, the current President of Young Israel of Eltingville. “They made improvements… In their mind, they became the owners.”
The agreement was reached in 2007 between a former President of Young Israel and leaders of Oorah, Inc.—a non-profit based in Lakewood, New Jersey that shares office space with Kars4Kids.
Oorah told PIX11 in 2008 its programs help raise awareness of Orthodox Judaism, run children’s camps, and help needy families.
But office supervisors weren’t happy to see us back then, when we paid an unannounced visit to the Kars4Kids/Oorah headquarters, trying to find out more about the people behind the jingle.
One man driving a Kars4Kids sedan even blocked our news vehicle from leaving, while the organization called Lakewood police.
Now, in 2016, Young Israel of Eltingville, Staten Island is in the middle of a legal battle with Oorah and Kars4Kids to stop the organizations from pushing it out.
When the 2007 deal was made, the former President of Young Israel said he was trying to save the shul from financial collapse. He received $250,000 from Oorah, Inc. and a promise that Oorah would do renovations and make mortgage payments. Young Israel insists it was told that members could keep using the sanctuary for services, while Oorah ran a preschool operation for young children in the rest of the building.
But something changed a couple of years ago.
“They also wanted to take over the sanctuary,” Max Robek told PIX11.
Members of Young Israel — many of them long-time residents of Eltingville who are aging — are fighting the loss of their synagogue.
Attorney Solomon Rubin is assisting them in their legal battle.
He filed legal papers last week in Staten Island Supreme Court that challenged Oorah’s tactics.
“It appears that… Oorah formed Congregation Oorah, Inc. so that it could use premise to falsely represent to the IRS that it was a synagogue, in order to obtain tax-exempt status as a religious congregation,” Rubin’s affidavit reads. “Congregation Oorah is not a religious congregation, but a day care center. The actual number of times it conducts services is zero.”
Many of the people affiliated with the case are marking the holiday of Succos this week.
But John P. Connors, one of the attorneys representing Oorah, Inc. in the legal battle, took our phone call from his Staten Island office.
“It is our policy not to comment on cases that are actively being litigated,” Connors told PIX11. “We will certainly be responding to the latest filing.”