East Midwood Jewish Center
Infobox religious building
building_name =East Midwood Jewish Center
location =1625 Ocean Avenue,
Midwood, Brooklyn, New York City, flag|United States
leadership =Rabbi: Dr. Alvin Kass
Associate Rabbi: Aaron Pomerantz
Cantor: Sam Levine
President: Gail Hammerman [http://www.emjc.org/about/ About Us] , East Midwood Jewish Center website.]
architect =Irving Warshaw/Louis Allen AbramsonNRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 2.]
architecture_style =Renaissance RevivalNRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 1.]
groundbreaking =1926 [http://www.emjc.org/about/history.html History] , East Midwood Jewish Center website.]
construction_cost =$1 million
capacity =800 (main floor), 150+ (balcony)NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 6.]
width =155 feet
dome_quantity =2NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 5.]
Steel frameExterior walls: MasonryFacades: Buff and red brick, limestoneNRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 4.]
added =June 7, 2006 [http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/listings/20060616.HTM "National Register of Historic Places Listings"] , June 16, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2008.]
Organized in 1924, the congregation's Renaissance revival building typified the large multi-purpose synagogue centers being built at the time, and remains the only synagogue with a working swimming pool in Brooklyn. The building has been unmodified architecturally since its construction, and in 2006 was added to the
National Register of Historic Places.
The East Midwood Jewish Center has had only three
rabbis since it was founded. As of|2008, the rabbi was Dr. Alvin Kass and the president was Gail Hammerman.
East Midwood was organized in 1924NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 8, p. 2.] by Jacob R. Schwartz, a dentist who was concerned that his two sons had no nearby
Hebrew schoolwhich they could attend.Kaufman (1999), p. 258.] From the start his intention had been to create a Conservative synagogue: Conservative Judaismwas seen as a compromise between Orthodox and Reform, providing the familiar (and lengthy) Hebrew services of Orthodox Judaism, but, like Reform, adding some English prayers. East Midwood differed from earlier Ashkenazi synagogues in New York, as services were to be conducted in Hebrew and English only (not Hebrew and Yiddish), and the members were to come from immigrants from all over Europe, not just one city or region.NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 8, p. 3.]
East Midwood held its first annual meeting on November 18, 1924 at the Jewish Communal Center of Flatbush, and there elected its first president, Pincus Weinberg. Weinberg, who was also chair of the Real Estate Committee, was the father of
Sidney Weinberg, who rose from the job of assistant porter to head Goldman Sachsfrom 1930 to 1969. Prior to moving to Flatbush, Pincus Weinberg had been president of Congregation Baith Israel Anshei Emes.Greenwald (2001), p. 35.] Barton (2006).]
East Midwood's first rabbi was Reuben Kaufman, and its first
cantorwas Jacob Schraeter. Kaufman, a Brooklyn native, had celebrated his Bar mitzvahat Baith Israel Anshei Emes.Levin (2006).]
The Real Estate Committee almost immediately purchased land located on Avenue L between East 26th and 27th Streets. Most members, however, felt a location on Ocean Avenue would be more desirable. Issues arose with developing the land on Avenue L, and in 1925 the Committee purchased the current location at 1625 Ocean Avenue in
Midwood, Brooklyn. The cornerstone was laid in 1926, and, although not complete, the building was fully enclosed by the autumn, and High Holiday services were held there that year. The Center's Talmud Torah, which had been created in 1925 and held in a temporary structure, also moved into the new building.
Designed in the Renaissance revival style, the building was finally completed in 1929 at the cost of $1,000,000.Kaufman (1999), p. 259.] It typified the new "synagogue-centers" being built at that time, combining the functions of both a synagogue and
community center, and included "a synagogue, auditorium, kitchens, restaurant, classrooms, gymnasium, and swimming pool". That year Rabbi Kaufman left the Center to become the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Paterson, New Jersey,Kass (2006).] and Harry Halpern became East Midwood's rabbi. Halpern, who also became an adjunct professor of pastoral psychiatry at the Jewish Theological Seminary, would go on to serve as rabbi for 49 years, until his retirement in 1977, four years before his death in 1981.Waggoner (1981).]
Great Depression and school building
Great Depressiontook its toll on the congregation, and membership dropped. In order to cope with the financial burdens, dues were raised, teachers were given endorsed notes rather than paychecks, the Executive Secretary was laid off, pews were sold, and individual members provided mortgage guarantees. The synagogue survived, and membership recovered; by 1934 there were 300 members, and by 1944 there were 1,100.
In 1950, East Midwood built a three story school building and a two-story bridge link between the school and synagogue. At its peak in the early 1950s the school had an enrollment of almost 1,000.
East Midwood later created a Conservative
Jewish day school, serving students from kindergartento Grade 8, and also providing "afternoon religious instruction for public school students through high school."Fioravante (1996).] The school was subsequently re-named the Rabbi Harry Halpern Day School, in honor of Rabbi Halpern.
In October 1968, then
Mayor of New York City John Lindsaywas booed and jeered by a huge crowd at the East Midwood Jewish Center, in an infamous incident during the 1968 New York City teachers strike.New York Times, October 16, 1968.] Lindsay had supported a school decentralization plan that had pitted mostly black parents against mostly Jewish teachers and school administration; after the administrator of the Ocean Hill—Brownsville school board dismissed 13 teachers and 6 administrators (mostly Jewish) for opposing decentralization, the United Federation of Teachers"called a strike that closed 85 percent of the city's 900 schools for 55 days". The strike, which was marked by "threats of violence and diatribes laced with racism and anti-Semitism", ended when the New York legislaturesuspended the administrator and the board.McFadden (2000).]
Following Halpern's retirement in 1977, East Midwood hired as rabbi Alvin Kass, a graduate of Columbia College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, with a Ph.D. in
philosophyfrom New York University.Lipsyte (1996).]
Late 20th-Early 21st century
As Brooklyn's changing demographics have made non-Orthodox institutions less viable, East Midwood has absorbed three other congregations, including the Jewish Communal Center of Flatbush,NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 8, p. 4.] where East Midwood had held its first annual meeting. In 1996, membership was 1,000 families.Lipsyte (1996).] The synagogue building has remained architecturally unchanged since its construction, and remains the only synagogue in Brooklyn with a functioning swimming pool. In June 2006, it was added to the
National Register of Historic Places, and in November 2007 East Midwood was awarded a $409,575 New York State Environmental Protection Fund grant to "restore features of the sanctuary including stained glass windows, stained glass dome and skylight." [http://www.state.ny.us/governor/press/1129072.html "GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES $25.3 MILLION IN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND GRANTS FOR PROJECTS ACROSS NEW YORK"] , New York State Executive Chamber, November 29, 2007.] [http://www.ny.gov/governor/press/1129072EPFProjects.html "ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND PROJECTS"] , New York State Executive Chamber, November 29, 2007.]
As of|2008, the
rabbiwas Dr. Alvin Kass, the associate rabbi was Aaron Pomerantz, the cantor was Sam Levine, and the president was Gail Hammerman. Kass has also been a New York City Police Department chaplain for over 40 years; he had previously served as an United States Air Forcechaplain for two years. At one point during that time he and his family received months of 24 hour security after death threats, and at another he defused a hostage situation by providing the hostage taker with sandwiches from the Carnegie Deli.Jacobs (2006).] Kass, who teaches ethics at the Police Academy, was instrumental in getting Jewish police officers time off to observe the Sabbath. He also convinced the NYPD Shomrim Society (the fraternal organizationof Jewish members of the New York City Police Department) to admit David Durk. Durk, along with the more famous Frank Serpico, had been the source of the allegations of police corruption that led to the formation of the Knapp Commission.
Author and talk show host
Dennis Pragertaught at East Midwood's Hebrew High school,Koppell (2004).] and famous congregational members have included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was confirmed at East Midwood,Pogrebin (2007), p. 19.] and filmmaker Marc Levin.Kalish (2005).] Levin's grandfather, Herman Levin, had been a president of the East Midwood Jewish Center, and had also helped found, and been a long-time lay-leader of, the Reconstructionist movement.New York Times, April 2, 1990.]
East Midwood has also had members who have died under tragic circumstances, including Jason Sekzer, who was killed in the
September 11, 2001 attacks, [http://usinfo.state.gov/media/Archive/2005/Jan/14-260933.html The 4,000 Jews Rumor] , United States Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programswebsite, Resource Tools, Identifying Misinformation, September 12, 2007. Accessed July 25, 2008.] and Danny Farkas, a New York police lieutenant and National Guard soldier who died while stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.Edward (2008).] Chandler (2008).] Yaniv (2008).]
* [http://www.emjc.org/about/ About Us] , East Midwood Jewish Center website. Accessed July 7, 2008.
* [http://www.emjc.org/about/history.html History] , East Midwood Jewish Center website. Accessed July 7, 2008.
* PDFlink| [http://www.emjc.org/natlhistoricarchitecture.pdf "National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet"] |76.7 KB,
United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, NPS Form 10-900-a, OMB No. 1024-0018, Section 7.
* PDFlink| [http://www.emjc.org/natlhistoricsignificance.pdf "National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet"] |137 KB,
United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, NPS Form 10-900-a, OMB No. 1024-0018, Section 8.
* [http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/listings/20060616.HTM "National Register of Historic Places Listings"] , June 16, 2006. Accessed July 7, 2008.
* [http://www.state.ny.us/governor/press/1129072.html "GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES $25.3 MILLION IN ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND GRANTS FOR PROJECTS ACROSS NEW YORK"] , New York State Executive Chamber, November 29, 2007.
* [http://www.ny.gov/governor/press/1129072EPFProjects.html "ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND PROJECTS"] , New York State Executive Chamber, November 29, 2007.
* "Mayor Jeered at Jewish Center As He Speaks on School Crisis; Mayor Jeered by Crowd at Brooklyn Jewish Center", "
The New York Times", October 16, 1968.
* [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE0D8143DF931A35757C0A966958260 "Herman Levin Is Dead; Jewish Lay Leader, 89"] , "
The New York Times", April 2, 1990.
* Barton, Evan. [http://www.brooklyneagle.com/archive/category.php?category_id=27&id=6493 "Brooklyn’s Oldest Synagogue Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary"] , "
Brooklyn Eagle", June 22, 2006.
* Edward, Daniel. [http://www.lawofficer.com/news-and-articles/in-memoriam/Lt_Daniel_Farkas.html "Cop who Died in Kabul Mourned as a 'Role Model'] , "
Newsday", July 15, 2008.
* Chandler, Doug. [http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c36_a12925/News/New_York.html "Jewish Soldier, Police Officer, Mourned"] , "
The Jewish Week", July 16, 2008.
* Fioravante, Janice. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9905EEDB1E39F932A15754C0A960958260 "If You're Thinking of Living In/Midwood;A Rich Ethnic Mix in Mid-Brooklyn"] , "
The New York Times", July 21, 1996.
* Greenwald, Judith R., "First Synagogues: The First 144 Years of Congregation Baith Israel Anshei Emes (The Kane Street Synagogue)", in Abramovitch, Ilana and Galvin, Seán. "Jews of Brooklyn",
University Press of New England, November 1, 2001. ISBN 1-58465-003-6
* Jacobs, Andrew. [http://www.emjc.org/about/kass_nyt_06.html "Blessing the Fallen, and Propping Up Those Left Behind"] , "
The New York Times", Section B, Column 2, Metropolitan Desk, p. 1.
* Kalish, Jon. [http://www.forward.com/articles/4113/ "Filmmaker Confronts ‘Protocols’ Myth in Documentary"] , "
The Forward", January 14, 2005.
* Kass, Alvin. [http://www.emjc.org/reading/v2006-06.html "Brooklyn Is In!"] , June 2006, Synagogue website. Accessed August 29, 2008.
* Koppell, Bonnie. [http://www.jewishaz.com/jewishnews/040220/prager.shtml "Prager's lasting effect"] , "Jewish News of Greater Phoenix", February 20, 2004, Vol. 56, No. 22.
* Kaufman, David. "Shul with a Pool: The "synagogue-center" in American Jewish History", Brandeis University Press,
University Press of New England, 1999. ISBN 0874518938
* Levin, Carol. [http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:elQpdh-2I8IJ:www.kanestreet.org/images_hj/1102The_Weinberg_Family.pdf "The Weinberg Family: Leaders during the Synagogue’s Golden Age"] , Kane Street Synagogue, [http://cache.search.yahoo.net/search/cache?&d=aCNmhBg5RKJ9&u=www.kanestreet.org/images_hj/Issue_11.pdf "The Synagogue Journal", Issue 11] , March 17, 2006.
* Lipsyte, Robert. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506E4DD173AF936A2575AC0A960958260 "Some Days, the Rabbi Wears Blue"] , "
The New York Times", September 15, 1996.
* McFadden, Robert D. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE5DE1F39F932A15751C1A9669C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=5 "John V. Lindsay, Mayor and Maverick, Dies at 79"] , "
The New York Times", December 21, 2000.
* Pogrebin, Abigail. "Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish", Random House, 2007. ISBN 0767916131
* Waggoner, Walter H. "Harry Halpern, 82, Jewish Leader, Dies", "
The New York Times", June 12, 1981.
* Yaniv, Oren. [http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/brooklyn/2008/07/14/2008-07-14_grief_for_brooklyn_son_lost_in_afghanist.html "Grief for Brooklyn son lost in Afghanistan"] , "Daily News", July 14, 2008.
* [http://www.emjc.org/ Synagogue website]
*Lipsyte, Robert. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A04E0D7133DF930A1575BC0A96E958260 "COPING; Time to Build The Ark?"] , "
The New York Times", August 23, 1998.
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