(New York Jewish Week) – In the mid 1990s, New York-based photographer Michael Horowitz wandered into the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a historic synagogue that is now dedicated to preserving the history of the Jewish Lower East Side.
At the time, the synagogue was undergoing a massive, $20 million, 20-year restoration. Horowitz, who is Jewish but said he is “not religious,” was moved by the resilience and perseverance of the congregation. Even more so, he was attracted to the building’s architecture and the dedication the community poured into preserving it.
Horowitz returned to Eldridge Street over the years to document each stage of the building’s renovations. It was in 2013, while looking for a new photography project, that Horowitz realized his impulse to document Eldridge Street could be translated to houses of worship throughout the city. He spent the next decade photographing Manhattan’s churches and synagogues — 95 of which are spotlighted in his new book “Divine New York: Inside the Historic Churches and Synagogues of Manhattan.”
Together, these buildings tell a fascinating New York story of immigration, architecture, faith and progress. “I wanted to open the doors to the public,” Horowitz, 71, told the New York Jewish Week. “I wanted to show everyone what was going on inside these buildings and show them how beautiful they are.”
He worked his way from Lower Manhattan through Harlem to some of the most notable houses of worship in the borough — from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown to the First Roumanian American Congregation, a now demolished Orthodox synagogue on the Lower East Side once known as “The Cantor’s Carnegie Hall.” Since beginning the project, a dozen of the buildings Horowitz photographed have been demolished, he said.
“Everyone should take the time and view them — even if you’re not religious,” added Horowitz, who has been interested in ecclesiastical architecture since he was a student at Queens College. “Then people will get an idea of what makes that specific group of people interesting and beautiful regardless of the dogma.”
According to writer Liz Hartman, who wrote the text to accompany Horowitz’s photos, these buildings tell the story of New York itself: When immigrant groups first came to the city with few resources, the structures were small and unassuming. Synagogues were built to serve one particular community — the Lower East Side’s Bialystoker Synagogue, for example, whose congregants were new immigrants from Bialystok, Poland. As the Jewish community began to prosper — and as immigrants began to arrive from all over Europe — synagogues became grander, more confident and diverse in membership.
“New York is the story of immigration, and the churches and synagogues are the story of immigration as well,” Hartman said. “Immigrants — New Yorkers — projected themselves through their houses of worship, and in a way that’s what made the city work. I hope that we can look at this project and see a story of immigrants — and see that we can support this with different groups going forward.”
Eleven of the houses of worship featured in “Divine New York” are synagogues. The New York Jewish Week tasked Horowitz and Hartman with selecting the most historically or architecturally significant synagogues of the bunch —no easy task because every house of worship in the book is a historic and notable one. Keep reading to see their selections and to learn more about these important Jewish sites.
Eldridge Street Synagogue (12 Eldridge St.)
This historic Lower East Side synagogue, dedicated in 1887, was the first synagogue building in New York erected specifically as a Jewish house of worship. “Right from the start, it distinguished itself from other synagogues by welcoming Jews from all over Eastern Europe while other congregations were defined by the towns or cities from which they came,” Hartman writes in the book. “It was also economically diverse; migrants right off the boat, peddlers, sweatshop workers, bankers, and entertainers were among its members.” The synagogue was also Orthodox at a time when New York’s grandest synagogues were being built by Reform congregations.
For decades, the synagogue thrived as Jewish immigrants filled the Lower East Side. However, by 1940, facing a dwindling membership, the congregation could no longer maintain the main sanctuary and closed it down. By 1970, the building was in danger of collapse and demolition. Students, journalists and historians teamed up to save the synagogue; the restoration began in 1986 and continued to 2007. Today, the building is known as the Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum, which features exhibits, history and lectures on immigrant life in New York.
The Bialystoker Synagogue (7-11 Bialystoker Pl.)
Founded on the Lower East Side in 1865, the Bialystoker Synagogue made its home in 1826 church building, purchased from a Methodist congregation, made with schist from Manhattan bedrock. The congregation maintained the austere exterior — though the interior was updated dramatically and boasts a grand ark and floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows. Curiously, an image of a lobster is featured on the elaborately painted ceiling murals — with little explanation for how the non-kosher crustacean might fit into the synagogue’s mission or Jewish identity. One hint is that the panel marks the Hebrew month of Tammuz, which corresponds with the astrological sign of Cancer, the crab. “It was bought from the Methodist Mariner’s Church, and there were a lot of fishermen that belonged to that church,” Horowitz told the New York Jewish Week. Or perhaps a kosher-keeping muralist didn’t know the difference between a lobster and a crab.
The synagogue, built in a traditional Orthodox style, has a balcony for women worshippers. In one corner of the balcony, a hidden door leads to an attic, which Hartman writes was allegedly a stop on the Underground Railroad.
The synagogue underwent a renovation in 1988 and is still an active traditional Orthodox congregation.
Central Synagogue (652 Lexington Ave.)
Completed in 1872, the building that houses the renowned Reform congregation in Midtown East seats nearly 1,500 people — a fraction of the congregation’s approximately 2,600 members. That’s a long way from the original 18 members from Bohemia, a region of the present-day Czech Republic, who started the congregation in 1846 in a remodeled church in the East Village.
Central Synagogue was built around the same time and in the same neighborhood as the Episcopal St. Thomas Cathedral and the Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral — some of New York’s grandest churches, which are also featured in the book. “Each of the groups were saying, ‘We’re here and we’re proud and we have prosperity.’ They were showing off, but in a really beautiful way,” Hartman said. “For Central, it was very much a message of assimilation. They were as interested in liberty, inclusion and reform as they were in Jewish ritual.”
Congregation Shearith Israel (8 West 70th St.)
Congregation Shearith Israel, also known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, was the first Jewish congregation in the United States, made up of Sephardic Jews who had arrived in New York in 1654 via Recife, Brazil. The congregation was the only Jewish one in New York for a century and a half before a faction of Ashkenazi members grew big enough to split off and form B’nai Jeshurun in 1825. While the congregation was housed in several different buildings throughout its history, it has been in its current home on the Upper West Side since 1896.
Temple Emanu-El (1 East 65th St.)
Founded by a small group of German Jews in 1845, Temple Emanu-El has become one of the grandest and more well-known synagogues in New York, boasting prominent members like ex-mayors Ed Koch and Mike Bloomberg, as well as hundreds of other influential Manhattanites.
Considered one of the leading synagogues in the Reform movement, Emanu-El made waves throughout the 19th century for translating all-Hebrew services into German, then English, as well as for installing an organ and for abandoning the mechitzah, the traditional divider between men and women during prayer. After several spots downtown, the congregation moved into its current building on 5th Avenue — the former site of John Jacob Astor’s mansion — in 1927. It can hold 2,500 people, making it one of the largest synagogues in the world.
Park East Synagogue (163 East 67th St.)
Built in 1890 by brothers Jonas and Samuel Ephraim in honor of their late father, Zichron Ephraim, this Orthodox synagogue has elaborate and eclectic arches, cupolas and stained glass throughout its design, reflecting its prominence in the New York Jewish community. “The design of the synagogue is anything but subtle and so, too, is its spiritual leader for more than 50 years, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who is outspoken in his advocacy of religious freedom, human rights, and mutual respect,” writes Hartman.
It was Schneier who invited Pope Benedict XVI to Park East in 2008, marking the first ever papal visit to a synagogue in the United States. Schneier, who is currently searching for a successor, was conferred a papal knighthood for interfaith effort for religious freedom. For many decades, Park East was a haven for Jews who immigrated from the Soviet Union.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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