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East Midwood Jewish Center

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East Midwood Jewish Center
East Midwood Jewish Center building 1.JPG
Basic information
Location 1625 Ocean Avenue,
Midwood, Brooklyn,
New York City, Template:Flag
Geographic coordinates 40°37′21″N 73°57′21″W / 40.622439°N 73.955756°W / 40.622439; -73.955756Coordinates: 40°37′21″N 73°57′21″W / 40.622439°N 73.955756°W / 40.622439; -73.955756
Affiliation Conservative Judaism
Status Active
Leadership Rabbi: Dr. Alvin Kass
Cantor: Sam Levine
President: Michael T. Sucher
President: Larry Isaacson[1]
Architectural description
Architect(s) Irving Warshaw/Louis Allen Abramson[2]
Architectural style Renaissance Revival[3]
Direction of facade West
Groundbreaking 1926[4]
Year completed 1929[3]
Construction cost $1 million[4][5]
Capacity 800 (main floor), 150+ (balcony)[6]
Width 155 feet[3]
Dome(s) 2[7]
Materials Structural: Steel frame
Exterior walls: Masonry
Facades: Buff and red brick, limestone[8]
(U.S. National Register of Historic Places)
Added to NRHP: June 7, 2006[9]
NRHP Reference#: 06000478[9]

East Midwood Jewish Center is a Conservative synagogue located at 1625 Ocean Avenue, Midwood, Brooklyn, New York City.

Organized in 1924,[10] the congregation's Renaissance revival building typified the large multi-purpose synagogue centers being built at the time,[5] and remains the only synagogue with a working swimming pool in Brooklyn.[3] The building has been unmodified architecturally since its construction,[3] and in 2006 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[9]

The East Midwood Jewish Center has had only three rabbis since it was founded.[11] As of 2009, the rabbi was Dr. Alvin Kass and the presidents were Michael T. Sucher and Larry Isaacson.[1]



East Midwood was organized in 1924[10] by Jacob R. Schwartz, a dentist who was concerned that his two sons had no nearby Hebrew school which they could attend.[12] From the start his intention had been to create a Conservative synagogue: Conservative Judaism was 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.[10] 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.[13]

East Midwood held its first annual meeting on November 18, 1924 at the Jewish Communal Center of Flatbush,[12] and there elected its first president, Pincus Weinberg.[4] 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 Sachs from 1930 to 1969. Prior to moving to Flatbush, Pincus Weinberg had been president of Congregation Baith Israel Anshei Emes.[14][15]

East Midwood's first rabbi was Reuben Kaufman, and its first cantor was Jacob Schraeter.[4] Kaufman, a Brooklyn native, had celebrated his Bar mitzvah at Baith Israel Anshei Emes.[16]

Building construction

East Midwood Jewish Center building 2

East Midwood Jewish Center

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.[4]

Designed in the Renaissance revival style,[3] the building was finally completed in 1929 at the cost of $1,000,000.[4][5] 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".[5] That year Kaufman left the Center to become the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Paterson, New Jersey,[11] and Harry Halpern became East Midwood's rabbi.[4] 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.[17]

Great Depression and school building

East Midwood Jewish Center sign door

Street level doors

The Great Depression took 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.[4]

In 1950, East Midwood built a three story school building and a two-story bridge link between the school and synagogue.[3] At its peak in the early 1950s the school had an enrollment of almost 1,000.[4]

East Midwood later created a Conservative Jewish day school, serving students from kindergarten to Grade 8, and also providing "afternoon religious instruction for public school students through high school."[18] The school was subsequently re-named the Rabbi Harry Halpern Day School, in honor of Rabbi Halpern.[4]

In October 1968, then Mayor of New York City John Lindsay was 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.[19] 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 HillBrownsville 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 legislature suspended the administrator and the board.[20]

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 philosophy from New York University.[21]

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,[22] where East Midwood had held its first annual meeting.[12] In 1996, membership was 1,000 families.[21]

East Midwood Jewish Center menorah

Upper level doors

The synagogue building has remained architecturally unchanged since its construction, and remains the only synagogue in Brooklyn with a functioning swimming pool.[3] In June 2006, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[9] That year the congregation received a $300,000 loan from the New York Landmarks Conservancy for repairs for "masonry and steel repairs on the side and rear facades."[23] It also raised $40,000 in order to receive a 2:1 "matching grant" of $20,000 from the Conservancy, and completed the repair work in 2007.[23] 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."[24][25]

As of 2009, the rabbi was Dr. Alvin Kass, the cantor was Sam Levine, and the presidents were Michael T. Sucher and Larry Isaacson.[1] The long-time associate rabbi, Aaron Pomerantz, died on May 30, 2009. Kass has also been a New York City Police Department chaplain for over 40 years, and had previously served as an United States Air Force chaplain for two years.[21] At one point during his service as Police Department chaplain 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.[26] 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 organization of 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.[21]

Famous members

Author and talk show host Dennis Prager taught at East Midwood's Hebrew High school,[27] and famous congregational members have included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was confirmed at East Midwood,[28] and filmmaker Marc Levin.[29] 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.[27][30]

East Midwood has also had members who have died under tragic circumstances, including Jason Sekzer, who was killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks,[31] and Danny Farkas, a New York police lieutenant and National Guard soldier who died while stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.[32][33][34]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 About Us, East Midwood Jewish Center website.
  2. NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 2.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 1.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 History, East Midwood Jewish Center website.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Kaufman (1999), p. 259.
  6. NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 6.
  7. NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 5.
  8. NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 7, p. 4.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 "National Register of Historic Places Listings", June 16, 2006. Retrieved July 7, 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 8, p. 2.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Kass (2006).
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Kaufman (1999), p. 258.
  13. NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 8, p. 3.
  14. Greenwald (2001), p. 35.
  15. Barton (2006).
  16. Levin (2006).
  17. Waggoner (1981).
  18. Fioravante (1996).
  19. New York Times, October 16, 1968.
  20. McFadden (2000).
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Lipsyte (1996).
  22. NRHP Continuation Sheet, Section 8, p. 4.
  23. 23.0 23.1 2007 Annual Report, New York Landmarks Conservancy, p. 15.
  25. "ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION FUND PROJECTS", New York State Executive Chamber, November 29, 2007.
  26. Jacobs (2006).
  27. 27.0 27.1 Koppell (2004).
  28. Pogrebin (2007), p. 19.
  29. Kalish (2005).
  30. New York Times, April 2, 1990.
  31. The 4,000 Jews Rumor, United States Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs website, Resource Tools, Identifying Misinformation, September 12, 2007. Accessed April 1, 2009.
  32. Edward (2008).
  33. Chandler (2008).
  34. Yaniv (2008).


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