NHBZ sues Block Yeshiva over back rent


Two local Jewish institutions are battling in court over a claim of just over $38,000 in unpaid rent. Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Congregation filed a lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court against Block Yeshiva High School, seeking back rent totaling $38,293 and legal fees incurred. NHBZ filed the suit Sept. 21, stating in court documents that Block Yeshiva failed to comply with a lease agreement when the school did not pay rent between May 14, 2007 and Aug. 14, 2009.

Block Yeshiva rented space from NHBZ beginning in Aug. 2005 for its boys’ school.

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The suit was filed against the school, along with former Block Yeshiva Board Presidents Alan Kandel of Chesterfield and Joel Garbow of University City. Kandel and Garbow signed a guaranty of the lease agreement for $5,000, according to NHBZ’s court filing.

Garbow, Kandel and Rabbi Gabriel Munk, head of school at Block Yeshiva, each declined to comment. Block Yeshiva’s current board president, Richard Axelbaum, also declined to comment.

In response to questions submitted by the Jewish Light, Nusach Hari B’nai Zion’s board of directors submitted a statement about the lawsuit.

“Despite the fact that [Block Yeshiva] went into rental payment arrears for an extensive sum, we did not deem it appropriate to have them vacate in the middle of the school year. In March 2009, we informed them that we would not be renewing their lease when it would terminate in August, 2009,” the statement said.

“We have great respect and fond feelings for the work that Block Yeshiva does with the youth of our community. It is a fine and necessary educational institution, and many of our members have and have had children in this school. We believe that a lawsuit is a vehicle of last resort in dealing with either an individual or organization. That is certainly true in our interactions with ‘members of the family’ — be it a Jewish individual, or a Jewish community organization.”

The statement said that while discussion and negotiation are “highly preferable to a lawsuit being brought,” the congregation is a not-for-profit organization and has “a responsibility to our members who have shouldered the economic burden up until now.”

“Sometimes a lawsuit is necessary, as unwanted and unpleasant as that step might be,” the statement said.

While halacha (Jewish law) calls for legal claims against a Jewish party to be handled by a Jewish court, or beit din, “there are exceptions that permit the implementation of legal action through the secular court system. This matter is such an exception.”

“We continue to prefer to resolve this matter within the family and await for Block to become our partner in resolving this issue,” the statement said.

Since August, Block Yeshiva’s boys’ school has rented space from Congregation Shaare Emeth.

Don Kriss, executive director of Shaare Emeth, declined to comment for this story.

Block Yeshiva, founded in 1977, also has a girls’ school, located on North Warson Road in Olivette.

As of Tuesday morning, the St. Louis County Circuit Court did not have a hearing scheduled for the case.