Memory Lane: Beth Israel of Borough Park (I)
More than one century ago—in the year 1919—during the months of August-November, the history of Congregation Beth Israel of Borough Park was fashioned, and the ripples of the dedication and passion of those founding members is felt to this very day.
In honor of this momentous centennial anniversary we take a look back at the illustrious tenure of this institution from Boro Park of yesteryear.
Sanctifying the Unholy
Congregation Beth Israel was founded in 1919, and the newly organized group began davening in a small cabin on Fifty-Sixth Street. As we have noted in the past, this area of Boro Park was newer, and it had not had a Shul in the vicinity—thus the men would need to trek far, presumably to Beth El on 41St Street.
Then came the opportunity a unique opportunity—one that would change the course of the history of the Shul.
The story begins twenty five years previously—in 1894 (!)—when the following was announced in the paper: New Methodist Church, Cornerstone Laying Ceremonies in Blythebourne Yesterday.” The congregation was called Blythebourne M.E. Indeed, the deed transfer in 1919 reads: “Boro Park M.E. to Rosenberg H. Et al,” and in turn—on the same day— Rosenberg H. Et al to Cong. Beth Israel.” Who was Rosenberg H.? Reading the following announcement in the Morgen Zhournal on September 17, 1919, we come to find out.
“Congregation Beth Israel of Borough Park in [their] own shul. The congregation has purchased the church building, and transformed it into a beautiful Shul, on 56th Street and Eleventh Avenue, Boro Park. With the acquisition of the Shul, the Jews of this neighborhood will no longer be compelled to walk a mile to another shul. The first ticket was purchased at auction by the renowned real estate man Samuel Liebling, with an office at 5107 New Utrecht Avenue….the officers are… Treasurer; Henry Rosenberg, 1040 57th Street.”
The lot is extremely large at 100 x 100 feet, and to purchase a lot and then build upon it a shul of this magnitude would cost a fortune. This coming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will already see Jews davening in it.”
Some dates: “August 5, 1919: a group of Jewish Borough Park residents meet at the home of Frieda Rutner, 1052 57th Street, and resolve to build a synagogue for the community. August 19, 1919: adopting constitution. September 3, 1919. Elias Lasner and Henry Rosenberg loan the congregation $500 to buy a lot on which to build a synagogue. October 21, 1919 (27 Tishrei)…lot for the synagogue purchased with a wooden shack on it for the sum of $5,500.
From Cabin to Citadel
The community continued davening in the one-floor structure for nine years. In 1928, they undertook a renovation project that would last nine months. It entailed adding the community center on the side (where the catering hall is located today), and built up the structure above what it had been.
In the spring of 1928, the new building was ready for dedication—a truly momentous occasion for the entire community, as reported: “Mr. Morris Ochacher, president of the Board of Trustees, has arranged for the presentation of special music by the choir and the presence of many prominent cantors.
“For the past nine months, the temple has been in the process of completion. Religious meetings were formerly held in the basement of the building… When the new building is opened, a Young Folks League will be formed. There will also be meeting rooms for the Hebrew School and kindergarten, which now numbers 175 pupils…”
In addition to what would have been thousands of events to take place here over the years, Beth Israel hall was the site—for as long as anyone can remember—of celebrations and occasions for Boro Park’s residents, one more way that this towering edifice has served this community since its founding one century ago in Boro Park of yesteryear.
To be continued…