RESIDENTS OPPOSE BUILDING OF SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Courtesy of North Jersey Media (26 June); by Monsy Alvarado, photo by
(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
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
Another hearing on the church's proposal is scheduled for July 16.