Memory Lane: The Boro Park Y
Last week we chronicled the history of one of Boro Park’s landmarks, Menorah Masonic Temple, which has transformed from a house of frivolity to serve the chinuch needs of Boro Park’s children.
Directly across 50th Street, on the same side of Fourteenth Avenue, you will find an equally towering building, if not as grand. This is the Young Men’s Hebew Association Building which was opened to the public in June of 1918.
The cornerstone was laid two years earlier, in 2016, as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports in June of 2015, “Cornerstone for new Boro Park YMHA to be laid in the fall. As a result of the fair to be closed tomorrow with a big rally at the Boro Park Clubhouse, the headquarters of the fair (This was later the site of Yeshiva Eitz Chaim) the committee hopes to raise $12,000. This sum will enable the construction of a modern building for the young men and young women of the Borough Park section.”
In February of 1915 we read, “The Borough Park Young Men’s Hebrew Association, organized not so very long ago, is outlining its plans for the year, so that increasing membership will avail itself of the many privileges that will be theirs. Eugene Lehman, the director of the YMHA of Borough Park, expects the Borough Park Jewish population to make this the civic center of their section…The plot is 160 x 130, and will afford ample room for a structure that will give a chance for the conduct of educational, physical and social activities.”
Two years later we read: “$75,000 structure formally opened at dinner. Prominent citizens there. $5,250 raised at feast. $3000 more needed for equipment, speeches tell of Jewish activity.
This took place against the backdrop of a raging WWI in Europe. “William Sugarman, president of the new branch and toastmaster at the dinner, proposed a toast to the president, our allies, and our soldiers and sailors…”
With this began a century of history that is still unfolding.
It seems as though, in addition to the extracurricular activities for which the Y has been known to serve, it also served the spiritual needs of Boro Parkers of yore.
Many do not know that Shulamith School for Girls, which has for so many years been located in Flatbush, was actually begun as the girl’s counterpart of Yeshiva Eitz Chaim in Boro Park, and even shared some head staff.
Recalled one early alumna: “When we were in Shulamith we did not have our own building. Our classes were held in the YMHA, 4910-14th Ave. Of course the building was not renovated as it is now. The school year then was different than now. There were two terms to each year. From Sept, to January was the A Term and from Jan. to June was the B Term. Being our space in the building was very limited and the classes small, we had 1A and IB in the same classroom, 2A and 2B together and so on thru the 8th grade.”
It also seems that minyanim were held there, and the following is one interesting anecdote related to that time, as related by a child of the time: “Boro park was at that time home to great chazzanim like Rosenblatt and Kwartin, and My father wanted me to become a child chazzan. There was also a Cantor Max Mittleman who davened in YMHA for 20 years. He was completely blind, and he had memorized all the tefillos by heart—and never made a mistake (!).
In the modern era, the Y continues to serve as a place for rejuvenation for Boro Park’s young people—building upon a century of history that continues to unfold.