Cambria Heights Residents Angry with Ohel, Visitors

Years of littering and swarms of rude visitors has a group of Cambria Heights residents fighting an Orthodox Jewish synagogue’s plan to expand. The Ohel Chabad Lubavitch, adjacent to the graves of two of the sect’s former leaders, is seeking a zoning variance to expand its facility to better accommodate overnight visitors.

The Rebbe Menachem Schneerson’s grave and that of his father-in-law Rebbe Yosef Schneersohn, attract an estimated several hundred followers a day. That number swells into the thousands during the high holy days, residents say. Many visitors come on the Sabbath, which means they stay overnight to avoid traveling on the holy day.

The congregation, which owns five single-family homes next to its community center on Francis Lewis Blvd., wants to build a structure in the center’s backyard and join the homes together, creating one large building.

But residents opposing the plan say visitors park in front of their driveways, leave trash strewn about the street and hog parking spots. Building a permanent dorm in the residential neighborhood would just worsen the problem, they said.

“The character of our neighborhood would be altered due to higher intensity of use, increased population, increased traffic, and the adjacent property to the west would be directly affected by encroachment into the yard setbacks,” members of the Cambria Heights Civic Association wrote in a letter to the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which will make a final decision on the plan.

The community opposes the plan, in part, due to years of perceived disrespect by the Ohel’s visitors, said Community Board 13 District Manager Larry McClean.

“There is emotional scar tissue there,” he said. “On the anniversary of his passing, upwards of 20,000 people come to pass through his graveside.”

The synagogue has contended that followers will come at all hours of the day whether the dorms are built or not.

“When the Rebbe passed away in June 1994, Lubavitchers as well as his followers around the world were left without a leader,” attorney Lyra Altman wrote in a letter to the BSA. “People began turning to the Rebbe’s grave to continue to seek his blessing and inspiration.”

When interviewed at the synagogue on Thursday, its leader Rabbi Abba Refson declined to comment on the proposal as a decision has yet to be made.

“We’ll leave it to the wise judgement of the city planners,” he said.

The proposal, which is scheduled for its fifth public hearing before the BSA on May 15, was rejected by both Community Board 13 and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall last year.

McClean said community members may be more amenable to the idea if the synagogue could coordinate an easier transportation route with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or if they were other compromises.

But for some neighbors, no amount of concessions will get them on board.

“This is a residential area,” said Al Williams, who has lived in his 227th St. home for 40 years. “It’s just not the right place for something like that to be.”




  • We brought up their home values.

    The neighbors should be happy that their house values tripled since it became such an attraction.
    We brought up their home values.

  • To #3 We brought up their home values

    Really? And that notion somehow entitles you to leave trash on their lawns and cut through their yards to dunk your holy self in the mikveh. If their property is so “valuable”, why don’t you buy a piece and let us know how things work out after a few months…

  • They Have a Point

    We should definitely hear what they say, I mean imagine thousands of people swarming around your house in a quiet little neighborhood taking up your parking spots increasing traffic etc.
    I really think that as Lubavitchers we should really try to resolve this in a peaceful manner. For example we should buy as many houses as possible maybe level a few houses and use them as a parking lot, that MTA arrangement idea definitely sounds good,and in general try to resolve this ‘Bedarchai Noam U’bedarchai Sholom’ as the Rebbe would have wanted.

  • CR

    In general, those who own homes next to a cemetery expect only quiet neighbors. Having thousands of visitors crowding the area with traffic and litter is not what they had in mind. We must be respectful of the neighbors in Cambria Heights; many of whom have lived there since long before most of us started making regular trips to that neighborhood. Let’s not forget who the guests are.

    And, yes, litter is a big problem. On a recent trip to the Ohel I ripped a tire on a glass bottle in the gutter with a Pri-Gat label on it!

  • chaim36

    Did you ever see a CLEAN and NEAT Chabadnik ? That’s why they object. Clean up your HATS and SUITS that would be a KIDUSH hashem .

  • Hirschel Pekkar

    BH. Why people do not put BH. on their comments. once The Bal Shem Tov, was asking a visitor how things are etc. in orde to elicit a BH. from him, to everything the visitor answered – fine good wonderful etc. etc. this yid had a downfall G-D forbid, till he began saying Boruch Hashem. The word “BROCHO” begins with a beis, and ends with a “hei” = BH.
    Why not invite the neighbors to a farbrengen, designed specifically for them, with an appreciation for life, and limb etc. Bringing up children, faith in Hashem, BE GOOD TO YOUR NEIGHBOR, who we are, and so on.

  • TO CR

    Nice try…… for your Pri-Gat story, but as far as I know, Pri-Gat does not export any glass bottled drinks from Israel (it costs too much for shipping), all their products in the USA are bottled in plastic.

  • Dovid

    To number 1:

    Did you ever consider that the ppl living near the ohel are plain and simply people too? Why do you need the Rebbe to tell you to treat the ppl nearby with basic respect and seemingly only do it to avoid chillul hashem when your basic humanity should already “inspire” to be a law abiding citizen and treat ALL others with basic respect. The Rebbe cared for every person regardless of race/color NOT bec it made yiddishkeit look better, but rather because that’s what it’s all about on a basic level. I know you don’t mean bad, but we gotta reevaluate the whole chillul hashem argument.

  • Dovid 2

    I think it’s a simple physiological concept. Within the social structure once a chossid visits his rebbe then a paradigm shift takes place and “gashmiyus” is no longer relevant. The outcome from this is the perceived rudeness from the nearby neighbors etc, and actual effects on their value of life. The leadership at the Ohel is aware of these challenges and usually exemplifies professionalism and respectability when they deal with issues; however, certain yeshivos frequent the ohel and their graduates personify and total lack of caring towards anyone not like them.