By Sharon Wisch-Ray
As expected, members of Congregation Ahavath Sholom, on Sunday, overwhelmingly approved the sale of its vacant parcel of land, a little more than 6 acres, to the Fort Worth Independent School District. The FWISD Board of Education approved the land purchase at its Tuesday evening meeting on a 5-0 vote even though several members were out sick. The trustees authorized Superintendent Kent Scribner to execute a contract with Ahavath Sholom soon. The land will also need platting approval from the City of Fort Worth.
The land will be used “as the future home of a new elementary school to provide overcrowding relief at nearby Tanglewood Elementary,” a FWISD release said Tuesday.
“From the very beginning, we had hoped to arrive at a fair resolution that is amicable to all parties,” said Scribner. “We are pleased for our children that this agreement provides a path for us to move forward with our design and construction plans.”
The sale price of the property is $6.8 million.
“The synagogue was happy with the school’s offer and the Fort Worth Independent School District did give a fair value,” explained Ahavath Shalom board member Steven Brown, an attorney who spearheaded the negotiations for the synagogue.
Three weeks ago, it looked like the synagogue would move forward with a lucrative deal with 4050 Hulen Partners, which wanted to build an upscale retirement community on the property. However, the interests of what was best for Fort Worth, its children and everyone involved prevailed, Brown said. He reiterated many times that everyone was pleased that Ahavath Sholom and the FWISD were able to come to terms.
“We will all be good neighbors,” Brown explained. “This school is right in the middle of all of the churches. The churches have been there for a long time. So, the setting of the school in the middle of all of the religious organizations is quite unique.”
Co-chairs Rhoda Bernstein and Murray Cohen, Marvin Beleck and Naomi Rosenfield joined Brown on the Focus on the Future Committee that worked on the issue for the past 1½ years.
“It was a real team effort,” Brown said, “And, we finally brought it to fruition.”
Elliott Garsek and Ahavath Shalom Rabbi Andrew Bloom were other key members of the team.
Garsek and his law firm Barlow Garsek & Simon were instrumental to the negotiations, serving as consultants and representing Ahavath Sholom throughout the process, Brown said. Garsek’s roots at the synagogue run deep. He grew up there, and his father, Rabbi Isadore Garsek, served as Ahavath Sholom’s spiritual leader from 1946 to 1979 and as rabbi emeritus until his death in 1985.
Bloom’s involvement with Mayor Betsy Price’s Faith Based Cabinet, Compassionate Fort Worth, Read2Win at Westcliff and the Task Force on Race and Culture, which he co-chairs, also helped.
Bloom’s passion for making Fort Worth a better place for all people and the relationships he’s built across the city demonstrated Ahavath Sholom’s goodwill in action, Brown said.
The rabbi tipped his kippah to Price.
“The mayor was a tremendous help in facilitating the betterment of the synagogue, the school board and the community,” Bloom said. “She saw that partnership and the continuing partnership of the synagogue, city and school board with tremendous vision, and she was willing to see where it would go together. She understood how to make it tremendously beneficial for all of us.”
Bloom said he is looking forward to the synagogue looking inward and assessing where it needs to go from here with the proceeds from the land sale.
“The next steps are for us to send out RFPs and get advice on whether or not it makes sense to renovate or rebuild,” Focus on the Future Committee Co-chair Bernstein said. She explained that there has been a strategic plan in place for the building, with Rebecca and Stuart Isgur chairing that committee.
Though it will have the proceeds from the sale of the land, the synagogue will most likely have to have some kind of capital campaign to raise the balance.
“It’s an exciting time,” Bernstein said. “Hopefully this will be an exciting process that everyone in the congregation can get behind. We do not have time restraints. We to take the time to make it happen and to do it right.”
One person who has wanted some change for the building for many years is Bernstein’s 99-year-old father, Lou Barnett, a past Ahavath Sholom president. Bernstein said that even five or six years ago, her father was talking about the synagogue doing something with its vacant land.
“Dad is one of the very few of his generation who is still with us. He’s been wanting to see this happen and had the vision long before Murray and I started working to make it reality three years ago.”
Bloom said it may have been fortuitous that the timing of the deal coincided with Parashat Shekalim.
“In the Torah this past weekend, we read about the half shekel and how each person complements each other to make it a full shekel,” Bloom said. “The school board, the city and ourselves are all complementing each other, and in the end, it works out for the betterment of everyone.”