Re: Mapping Former Synagogues in Manhattan #usa

Moshe Berman

Mr. Rosen,

This is indeed fascinating. Thanks for sharing. 

I grew up on the Lower East Side in the 1990s and there are still about a dozen synagogues that are “active” in some way or another. (The sad joke is that they all have the same 10 people for a minyan.) But, I got to experience growing up surrounded by history. 

Allow me to share a couple of stories:

There’s the Vishkover Chevra on the corner of Grand and Montgomery, now a renovated OHEL home. It was once a charming shul on the first floor of a three story walk up apartment with gorgeous murals on the wall. 

There was a kiddush downstairs every week, with “Louie’s Kugel. Louie was a Hispanic custodian who would put up the Kugel every week and take it out of the stove. Dr. Feitel Rubin would cut it during the end of Mussaf, and we would all enjoy it along with the herring, kichel, and banter among the old men.

I was a news-buff at seven years old, and would sometimes sneak downstairs during davening to read Louie’s copy of the New York Post. This served me
well when talking to the men as old as ten times my age - I could follow sports, world events, and politics.

When my dad wanted me in shul for kedusha, he’d come get me. Other times, I would explore the downstairs. I don’t remember much, but there was a bathroom at the end of the hall, and a door in the middle leading to the sun-basement. It was pitch black, so I never went down there. It was also the first time I heard the word sub-basement.  

I once gave a speech at mincha time in that shul, probably from a book, and the whole place - all of eleven or twelve people - listened  (The Leventhal brothers, Mutty and David, were the masters of banter, heckled me a little bit.)

Rabbi Schneider and Rabbi Kastel were the Rabbis. Rabbi Schneider was the main rabbi there, and he had a gorgeous voice, the most powerful I’ve ever heard in my life, until today. The sweetest man, he was tall, at least to me at arhat age. He was a smoker, and sadly passed away from cancer during what was already a dark period for the shul.

The owners of the building were long gone, and their children had no need for a building in a gentrified neighborhood. They wanted to take advantage of rising Manhattan real estate and sell. I innocently cried one Friday night that they shouldn’t sell it to become a house of worship for another religion. 

The grown-ups got together and through legal action, either in civil or religious court - I don’t know - we’re able to reach an agreement whereby the building would sell, and the shul would retain the use of the building. A Jewish organization would be a good candidate to agree to this, and a deal was struck with OHEL.

The building was gutted and renovated, and during that time, the members dispersed to other synagogues on that block of East Broadway. Eventually the building had been finished, but Rabbi Schneider had passed away, and there was a falling out between some of the other members of the shul. 

I can tell you who ended up in which shul by memory, but it’s not important. The fonder memories are. The Kugel, the newspapers, the mural, the benches. I had a very special experience in that corner of my childhood. 

I’ve been inside several other of the synagogues that are no longer open or functioning. There’s the one off of Grand Street which I’m blanking on the name, but is a city landmark and had a fire recently.   

Another is the old Young Israel building on East Broadway is gone. I used to go to the Teen Minyan there, and before that Pirchei youth groups every Shabbos.  

The old section of the East Side Torah Center that was sold to whatever business is there now. (They had two buildings on the corner of Henry St, where it meets Grand.) There was a kiddush hall downstairs, that’s now one of the main sanctuaries. Among my earliest memories is dodging through adults and grabbing candy from those multi-tiered trays at some gala kiddush or event.

Those were the days. This is why I love what you shared - it’s our history, but it’s also my experience  

Thanks for reading.

Moshe Berman,
Boca Raton, FL

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