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  • Thomas Daniel
    RESIDENTS OPPOSE BUILDING OF SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH Courtesy of North Jersey Media (26 June); by Monsy Alvarado, photo by Carmine Galasso (ZNDA: New Jersey) A
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 7, 2003
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      Courtesy of North Jersey Media (26 June); by Monsy Alvarado, photo by
      Carmine Galasso

      (ZNDA: New Jersey) A standing-room-only service at St. Gabriel's
      Syrian Orthodox Church in Hackensack. A different kind of standoff is
      blocking the church's move to Haworth.

      When the Rev. Aziz Hadodo leads Sunday services at St. Gabriel's
      Syrian Orthodox Church in Hackensack, he can't help but notice the
      young members who stand in the back.

      "I pray for them. I say to them, even with these conditions, you come
      to church,'' he said. "They deserve better than that."

      In an effort to better accommodate the 450-member congregation,
      church officials want to build a larger house of worship with a
      community hall in Haworth. But the church's plans have gotten a
      chilly reception from Haworth residents and members of a nearby golf
      club, who have filled Planning Board meetings since February
      expressing their objection to traffic, noise, the loss of trees at
      the site, and the size of the proposed building and its dome.

      The church wants to erect a 5,000-square-foot building on 3.4 wooded
      acres on Sunset Avenue, a residential zone. Plans call for the single-
      family house on the property to be torn down. Churches are permitted
      in residential neighborhoods.

      "I don't think it's the right place for a church,'' said Ruth
      Benvent, a next-door neighbor to the site who, along with her
      husband, Joseph, hired a lawyer to fight the plan. "To knock down a
      home that is well over a million dollars to build a church, it just
      doesn't conform to the neighborhood."

      The White Beeches Golf and Country Club, which abuts the property,
      has also hired a lawyer.

      Hadodo said he understands neighbors' concerns and respects their
      need to question the church's proposal. But, he said, he is
      optimistic that eventually, neighbors will warm up to the plans.

      "It's going to be a first-class church, nothing of an eyesore,'' he
      said. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. It will be a beautiful

      Sunset Avenue residents have said that having a house of worship
      among single-family homes could negatively affect their property
      values and bring unwanted cars to the area.

      "There is already enough traffic on Sunset Avenue, and we don't need
      any more traffic," said Nick Fazio, who lives in the neighborhood and
      has not missed a Planning Board meeting.

      Hadodo tried to alleviate concerns that cars would be lining the
      streets, saying the church probably wouldn't use more than 60 of the
      150 parking spaces it is required to build.

      Other residents pointed to the loss of tax revenue, since property
      belonging to churches and other religious organizations is tax-exempt.

      Hadodo said that although the church won't be paying taxes, there is
      a benefit to having a house of worship on the site.

      "We're not burdening the school budget, because we are not bringing
      children to educate,'' the cleric said.

      St. Gabriel's has been in Hackensack since 1994 and has outgrown the
      former Protestant church on Fairmont Avenue that it now occupies.

      Most of the church's members are first-generation immigrants from
      southern Turkey. The congregation was formed so they could attend
      Mass in Syriac-Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke.

      "Our people, they wanted their own church, because they wanted to
      understand the Mass,'' Hadodo said, about holding services in their
      native tongue.

      He said the congregation includes a number of self-employed jewelers
      who are hard-working. He said the parishioners, who live in such
      towns as Dumont, New Milford, Bergenfield, and Haworth, raised the
      money through donations to build the church and buy the site, which
      cost $1.15 million.

      Hadodo said he doesn't expect the number of congregants to grow much
      bigger, a concern expressed by several Haworth residents.

      "When our people increase in numbers, they look for another church,''
      he said, noting the church is composed of about 120 families. "Our
      people like small groups."

      Furthermore, he said, he expects younger members to seek out other
      parishes, which conduct Mass in English, as they get older. St.
      Gabriel's holds the one Sunday service in Syriac-Aramaic.

      "Newcomers attend church, but as you go through generations, the
      attendance falls,'' he said. "Our people are going to be Americanized
      sooner or later."

      In addition to a 450-seat sanctuary and community hall, the proposed
      building would have a kitchen, an area for Sunday school, and a
      library in the basement.

      Hadodo said the church would be used primarily on Sunday mornings for
      Mass and Sunday school. It also would be used Monday evenings for
      Bible study. Church events during Christmas and Easter would be held
      in the community hall, he said.

      The hall also would be rented to parishioners for weddings, but
      Hadodo said he usually performs only four weddings a year. He said
      most members would prefer to have weddings at restaurants or banquet
      halls where they don't have to worry about hiring caterers.

      "Even with baptisms, they go to restaurants,'' he said.

      The plans also call for a dome that would extend approximately 30
      feet. The dome is supposed to represent Christ as the head of the
      church, according to testimony at one of the Planning Board hearings.
      Church officials said having one dome was conservative for the
      Orthodox Church.

      Another hearing on the church's proposal is scheduled for July 16.

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