Temple Tantrum

Not even the embattled State of Israel can hold a candle to this feuding little synagogue in North Bay Village

Though the incident inspires one fundraising possibility no one had considered -- charging admission for a staged grudge match between Nash-Tessler and Schonberger -- after the confrontation the chance for any accommodation between the cliques seemed to disappear. Distrust and nasty gossip continued to spread. Nash-Tessler stalled on pressing for a formal vote of the temple's membership to choose between the rival boards and to determine once and for all Beth El's fate. She had recruited about 25 new members who had given her small deposits on membership, but she didn't want to turn over the funds to Bunis's group for fear he and his cohorts would squander the money or use smear tactics to throw the vote their way. "Why should we strengthen their authority?" she said. "I know these guys and how they operate. I don't want any hanky-panky." She favored waiting to see whether the court mandated the election of a new board.

Still, Nash-Tessler wasn't above retailing a few smears of her own. Privately, for instance, she raised broad -- and unproven -- hints about one city official's purported philandering. And her sharp tongue could even turn against her own allies when it suited her. So when Simon Chevlin, president of her Temple Beth El, Inc. of North Bay Village, threatened to resign in a dispute over her hardball legal tactics, she began subtly bad-mouthing him, too. "Nobody wants dirty laundry about him aired," she said, affecting a tone of sympathy. "He might not be able to be elected." It would be no great loss, she implied, if he were to step down.

By early November Chevlin was back in Nash-Tessler's good graces; he had decided to remain as president while their rebel group began discussions with a 90-member Miami Beach Orthodox congregation, Kolel Harambam, that was interested in running the temple even though its $175,000 offer already had been spurned by Bunis's board. The group recruited 40 of its members to sign on with Temple Beth El and give Nash-Tessler deposit checks so they could vote with her side in any upcoming issue put before the congregation. By last week Nash-Tessler had garnered membership commitments from 63 people -- more than enough to challenge Bunis's board -- and had asked the court for permission to open a bank account to deposit their dues.

Though some of Bunis's colleagues viewed the Orthodox worshipers as "fanatics" without any legal standing, Nash-Tessler remained confident of her ultimate triumph. "There is no more reason to close the building," she crowed as she awaited aid from this latest deus ex machina in her divine mission and began planning a huge Chanukah party at the temple next month. Of course, even as she envisioned a future as the heroine of Temple Beth El, she made sure to get in a few more jabs at her enemies. If her loyal warriors couldn't save the temple, she warned, the city leaders would eventually "sell the building and put up a high-rise.

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