The Brotherhood Synagogue in Gramercy Park (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
While it happened many miles away from New York City, for Jewish New Yorkers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting massacre on October 27 hit way too close to home, especially since locally, in the days following, there were reports of anti-Semitic graffiti and other types of vandalism at Jewish houses of worship in Brooklyn.
Many attended a vigil for the victims in Pittsburgh in Union Square shortly after the incident. Others jammed their temples for special Sabbath services that Friday night. Town & Village’s own associate editor, Maria Rocha-Buschel, found herself attending services for the first time in — she admitted — years, and reported that The Brotherhood Synagogue in Gramercy Park was completely packed. Much of the evening’s service was focused on the shootings and Rabbi Daniel Alder read a letter from a congregant who’d grown up near the Tree of Life Synagogue where eleven people were murdered, and knew two of the victims.
East End Temple in Stuyvesant Square Park was also crowded “beyond capacity,” noted a congregant there, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. “There was a lot of unity in difficult times,” he added.
Florence Friedman on her 100th birthday (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The first female president of Town & Village Synagogue died on Friday, September 28, about a month before her 102nd birthday. Florence Friedman, a Peter Cooper Village resident and previously an original tenant of Stuyvesant Town, was also one of the founding members of the local temple, attending services there before the congregation had an official physical presence in the neighborhood.
Around the time of her 100th birthday, Friedman told Town & Village about the early days of the synagogue, when services were held above a liquor store south of East 14th Street and meetings were held at a dairy on First Avenue.
Friedman was born on November 7, 1916 in Brooklyn and grew up in the Bronx. Democratic incumbent Woodrow Wilson was reelected on the day that Friedman was born and at the time, women still didn’t have the right to vote.
Peter Cooper Village resident Florence Friedman (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Voters in New York need to provide a reason for voting absentee and Peter Cooper Village resident Florence Friedman had a good one: she turned 100 the day before the election.
When she was born in 1916, the actual day of the election that year when voters reelected Democratic incumbent Woodrow Wilson, women were still not allowed to vote. And although Friedman wasn’t able to make it to her polling place on Election Day because of limited mobility, she said she enthusiastically sent in her ballot ahead of the deadline because she wanted to make sure her vote was counted for Hillary Clinton.
She was saddened when she woke up on Wednesday and found that her choice had not won.
“I voted for Hillary and most of the people around me voted for Hillary but I’m disappointed in the outcome,” she said the day after the election. “But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. It’s what we’ll have to live with.”
Town & Village Synagogue (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
After being calendared by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the last 50 years, the wait at Town & Village Synagogue is finally over. The East 14th Street building was officially landmarked last Tuesday, and T&V president Marianna Mott Newirth said that the community is happy with the commission’s compromise in their decision.
The need for compromise came from the fact that the synagogue is actually made up of two different structures — the original façade and the back part of the building that was added later — and the synagogue’s community was opposed to landmarking the entire building because of the difficulties involved with getting approval from the LPC for renovations. As a result, the landmark status applies only to the façade of the building.
“(The commission) is mainly concerned about what is visible so clearly back building isn’t part of that,” she said. “They agreed that the back was built much later and has nothing to do with the original structure.”
Many members of the synagogue were wary of landmarking because of how it would affect necessary renovations for the building. Since the back part of the building wasn’t landmarked and the same restrictions don’t apply, work that needs to be done there won’t be a problem, but Newirth noted that there won’t be much change in their process anyway: it’s been calendared for so long that it’s almost like the property’s been landmarked the whole time anyway.
“Our original argument against landmarking was that it would delay steps on going forward and that happened, so we have to pay extra now,” she said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal. It just means going forward we have to put more thought into timeline and factor in the extra time to get LPC approval.”
Town & Village Synagogue on East 14th Street (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Although Town & Village Synagogue on East 14th Street is currently being considered for landmarking by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the community most affected by the effort isn’t particularly enthusiastic about the prospect.
“We really don’t want the landmarking,” Synagogue President Marianna Mott Newirth said. “I’ll honor what their decision is but I don’t think the building merits landmarking. We take a position in preserving the community and we’ll have to go through all these hoops because of what they see from the street.”
Town & Village’s building has been on East 14th Street for 150 years, but the synagogue itself began elsewhere, so the physical manifestation for the congregation is not the most important aspect of the community for many of its members.
One such member, Peter Cooper Village resident Henry Condell, wrote a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, published in the May 8 issue of Town & Village, that urged the commission not to landmark the synagogue because many members believe that the continuation of their traditions are more important than the building where the traditions are practiced.
“Even without the threat of landmarking, making our building safe, accessible and adaptable to our needs has proved to be beyond our means,” Condell argued. “Moreover, the space, laid out almost 150 years ago, poses tremendous safety risks to our congregation. Despite our best efforts and consultations with several professionals, we have been unable to come up with a practical and affordable solution to making this antiquated building safe.”
Newirth noted that the landmarking effort has been going on for almost 40 years and even just being under consideration has affected the synagogue’s ability to make the necessary repairs on their building. “Even just being calendared, if there’s anything that affects the façade we need to go through the LPC,” Newirth said. “There’s work on the roof that can’t be done because we’re being considered for landmarking. Those onion domes, which are one of the main reasons for the landmarking, are exceedingly leaky and of course that’s what everyone sees. But that’s one of the parts that needs to be fixed yesterday. And even now, our hands our tied. That’s a prime example of how being landmarked would cause delays.”
As a compromise, both Newirth and Condell have said that if landmarking does go through, they want to make a distinction between the front part of the building, which includes the historic façade and the main sanctuary, and the back part of the building, which encompasses the kitchen and office spaces that get used for various programs not necessarily related to their religious services. Per this distinction, they are hoping that only the front part of the building be considered for landmarking.
Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh submitted testimony in favor of the landmarking but also made the distinction between the two parts of the building, based on feedback from constituents who are members of the synagogue, and specified that only the front part of the building should be landmarked. He noted in his testimony that “the building in the back of the lot was not part of the original plan and serves various, newer purposes” and is not architecturally significant.
“We serve our membership but we also serve our greater community, people who are not Jewish,” Newirth said. “The people who were most vocal about landmarking our building have never stepped through our doors and never even knew there was a back building. I can completely understand (the architectural significance of the façade) and we’re not interested in ruining that but we are interested in enhancing what we have so our members can get the most out of our services.”
The LPC hosted a public hearing at the end of March about the proposed landmarking and kicked off a month of public feedback throughout April, but Newirth said that she isn’t sure how long they’ll be waiting for a response. She said that it might even be possible that they’ll have to go through the whole process again because, since the city’s administration has recently changed, a new chair of the commission was just appointed last week.
This holiday season, the Jewish community will have a lot to celebrate due to the rare overlap of two major holidays in what has been coined “Thanksgivukkah.”
This year marks the first time in 125 years that two fall holidays will be happening on the same day: Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of every November, will be on November 28 this year and the first day of Hanukkah, which falls on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, will also be this upcoming Thursday.
The Hebrew calendar is lunar and has fewer days than the solar Gregorian calendar so the former occasionally adds in a month to compensate.