Beyond Boro Park: How the Niklosburger Rebbe Spreads Unbridled Ahavas Yisroel Throughout the Catskills
It is a place that has gained renown throughout the world.
The century-old shul Bnei Israel Shul in Woodbourne, located in the center of the Jewish Catskills, has undergone a renaissance in the last decade. Established in 1922 by Jewish farmers who were fleeing the terrible life in the old world, it was once a beautiful, bustling Shul, serving the thousands of Jews in the area. Incredibly, the Shul survived with steady minyonim, until around 2000, when it could no longer be maintained. In 1999, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
But the beautiful edifice had fallen into disrepair, and for Rav Mordechai Jungreis, a scion of the Tchenger dynasty, and a beloved rebbi for decades—this was regrettable; it bothered him to see this place, which had served the Yidden of the Catskills for so long, sit idly, degrading. So he contacted the Shul’s officers… and the rest is history.
In the beginning, the shul was unsafe, and so the non-stop minyonim began outside, on Route 52. But the Rebbe invested heart and soul into the effort to rebuild it… and close to $100,000! (Not to mention the regular maintenance costs), until the Shul was once again safe for use.
That is when the real renaissance of the Shul took place. And to anyone familiar with this special place, it is the magnetic draw of the Rebbe, Rav Mordechai Jungreis, who greets each and every single person who comes through Bnei Israel’s doors—thousands of people of every stripe, every single day, to learn, to daven, or to drink a coffee—with overwhelming love.
This is what the Rebbe preaches… but it is also what he teaches by his sterling example. He does not tire… from early morning to late at night… greeting each person, offering them something to eat, smilingly pointing them to the next minyan, and leaving them with a good word.
Tending to the material and spiritual needs of the thousands who come to the Shul has not taken the Rebbe away from seeing to the physical expansion and improvement of the Shul—and it is his dedication and love for the Shul that inspires others to assist him in his work. Which was the case with the enormous patio that was added in the back of the shul last year—opening up space for tens of additional miyanim, among the trees and the fresh air.
Thus, the Rebbe tirelessly makes his way in and out, back and forth… never ceasing in his holy work, with love and dedication.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, the Shul was open throughout the entire year, due to the many families who remained here. Of course, the Rebbe remained here to serve them and to look after his beloved Shul.
This Thursday, July 22, a brand new Sefer Torah will be given into the Shul—bringing together so many people who call this shul home, or “Klal Yisroel’s Shul,” as the Rebbe refers to it. They will sing and dance with the holy Torah through the Streets of Woodbourne, bringing Yiddishkeit alive to this area of the Catskills that Yidden have now called home for more than a century—the greatest possible way to celebrate and incredible renaissance.
And as the Shul nears one-century of serving as a spiritual lighthouse to the Catskills mountains—to the Russian immigrants escaping persecution and starvation, as well as to the Brooklyn Yidden escaping the oppressive heat of the city—the Niklosburger Rebbe marks one decade of providing light and sweetness to his fellow Yidden with unbridled love.