Memory Lane: Yeshiva Eitz Chaim
In our last installment, we wrote about the founding of a fledgling Yeshiva Etz Chaim/Hebrew Institute of Boro Park in Boro Park of 1916—the very first full-time yeshiva day school in Boro Park.
On Sunday, October 24, 1920, the cornerstone was laid. Among the attraction of the event were the attendance of great dignitaries, elected officials, a performance by Chazzan Zavel Kwartin with his choir, and “…a monster motorcar parade at 10:30 a.m. that will commence at 13th avenue and 53rd Street, and go through many streets of Borough Park and Bath Beach.”
When the work would be completed, the original building of the club would be kept, but it would be extended all the way to 51st Street, making the building a full block in length. If one looks closely at before-and-after pictures, we can easily identify the parts belonging to the original structure, as well as those part of the addition.
The construction cost $250,000—an astronomical sum for a century ago—and was a testament to the appreciation of those Yidden for providing a Jewish education to the children of the community.
“This joy was evident at the official opening of the new, beautiful Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, at Thirteenth Avenue and 50th Street….looking at the impressive faculty outside, and at the comfortable facilities inside, one is indeed inspired…,” wrote Der Morgen Zhournal.
Famed Chazzan Mordechai Hershman had recently become the official cantor at Congregation Beth El, and he entertained the attendees with his liturgy—and a Rabbinic address was given by Rav Meir Yehoshua Peikes, a Rav at Shomrei Emunah.
In its heyday, Yeshiva Eitz Chaim had around 2,000 students enrolled, and many famous and prominent people were among its alumni.
Boro Park has undergone a drastic metamorphosis. Once an extremely diverse neighborhood, it has changed considerably over the decades, and the need for an ivrit b’Ivrit-accented school became obviated. The downturn in enrollment happened very quickly due to the aforementioned demographic changes, as well as the opening of Yeshiva Toras Emes in 1929, which drew many students its way.
With its closing in 1979, Yeshiva Eitz Chaim’s Shabbos minyan, which took place in the building each week, moved into the Young Israel building at 1363 50th Street, where it remained a separate entity in the downstairs beis medrash until the sale of the building, and Young Israel’s merger with Congregation Beth El.
The proceeds of the sale of the magnificent building went to the establishment of the “Yeshiva Etz Chaim Foundation” which its alumni founded to continue the yeshivas traditions—and over the years has distributed many funds to toward the furtherance of Jewish education, both in America as well as Eretz Yisroel, continuing the flame that was kindled more than one century ago, in Boro Park of yesteryear.