February 20, 2020

Tiny shul faces eviction threat

“I call it a hub, like the airlines, Mikhael Maimon said. “When people want help, they come through our doors. And when people want to help others, they come here.” Maimon is director of Kollel Rashbi Ari shul in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. The shul got its start when the artist Chaim Mekel used the space as a studio, then slowly became a place of worship as Mekel studied kabbalah and Torah in his free time. Kollel Rashbi Ari thus began as a nondenominational center. As an interviewer speaks to Maimon, people wander in from the street, wanting a hot meal or needing to borrow Maimon’s cell phone. 

Nine months ago, Maimon became director of the 15-year-old shul. Located in a tiny space, just 700 square feet, it includes a mikveh for men, as well as a table for studying and a kitchen that produces food for the hungry any time of day. 

“We are for the people and about the people,” Maimon said. With its mission as a “center for spiritual and material sustenance,” Kollel Rashbi Ari holds a daily minyan and serves more than 200 people at a weekly Shabbat dinner. The food is donated by caterers, and the shul is run by donations and volunteers.

In addition to feeding the hungry, the center helps find housing for the homeless. However, despite their best efforts, financial problems persist. The building that houses the shul is leased from the MCM Property Management Co., and MCM has threatened eviction multiple times, because, Maimon admits, “We don’t pay the rent really ever on time, but we always pay.” Kollel Rashbi Ari pays $2,100 a month for the space, which includes utilities, but it often pays up to three weeks late. They were given a three-day eviction notice just before Rosh Hashanah last fall, and were served with a 30-day notice after that. 

Kollel Rashbi Ari reached an understanding with the management company, who, Maimon said, agreed that it wasn’t “a good idea to close down a shul,” and it has so far been allowed to remain open.

“So, we were going to have a fresh start and sign a new lease. See, it was a Rosh Hashanah miracle.” The rent has been paid through January, but not yet for February and March, but there have been no recent eviction notices posted on the door. The problem is, Maimon said, the writ of execution remains open with the sheriff’s department, which means the management company can “merely push the button, and the sheriff will show up and evict us.” MCM Property Management declined to comment for this article.

Maimon said that paying the rent on time isn’t always possible. “We don’t always have the money on time, and we have to take care of the people who walk in the door as well. But, hopefully there will be a large donation coming through that will take care of all of our financial troubles. We just need to be allowed to stay long enough for that to happen.”