Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Synagogues Once Stood Here: A Tisha B'Av Exploration

Judah S. Harris

It’s Tisha B’Av afternoon and I’m walking through Harlem on my personal journey of mourning. I’ll traverse an entire region of abandoned shuls, silent testimonies to our exile — where even the most stable of structures are but fleeting memories.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

There are many ways of adding meaning and relevance to Tisha B’Av

Although Tisha B’Av is observed through fasting, expressions of mourning, and the recitation of Megillas Eichah and Kinos, in our times at least, communities and individuals often supplement these activities with additional experiences. How can we communicate added meaning and relevance to a day that has been with us for so long? I remember in the early nineties photographing the annual torch-lit procession that takes place the night of Tisha B’Av at Camp Morasha in Lake Como, Pennsylvania; I’ve attended day-long learning programs in Brooklyn; I’ve sat together with others in air-conditioned synagogue halls and multipurpose rooms watching films (often taped interviews) produced especially for the day.

Then one Tisha B’Av afternoon about two decades ago, just a few years after I had graduated college, I decided I would wander around parts of Harlem and look at the structures that used to be synagogues. My grandfather was born in Harlem in 1900. As a young child and then a young man, Harold Harris attended Congregation Ohab Zedek at an earlier location, north of where it is today. The synagogue’s full name was First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek. And Yossele Rosenblatt, as he always liked to mention, was the esteemed cantor.

My grandfather would proudly volunteer that information in the 1920s and 1930s during countless job interviews, when asked at some later stage of the meeting, after his credentials had been readily confirmed, “And, Mr.Harris, what church do you attend?” His response was always: “I belong to Congregation Ohab Zedek, Yossele Rosenblatt is the cantor …” I heard him tell this story numerous times, along with the same ending sentence: “I’m sorry Mr. Harris, but we don’t hire Jews.”

Decades after those rejections, I walked through Harlem on many Shabbosim and Yamim Yovim — probably more than 100 times over a number of years — trekking from my apartment in Washington Heights, where I was then living, to the Upper West Side — sometimes three miles, sometimes five, and sometimes doubling that with a return trip.

Once I even organized a final Rosh HaShanah minyan at a shul on 157th Street, after being inspired by a Tisha B’Av afternoon walk to see the synagogues that once were. I wrote an eloquent message and papered the walls of Yeshiva University’s main campus with photocopied signs inviting students to be a part of the last synagogue in Harlem’s very last minyan. In actuality the synagogue was just outside the boundaries of Harlem, two blocks north of the Hamilton Heights–Washington Heights border. It also wasn’t the very last synagogue in Harlem, but it was the southernmost of what’s referred to as Northern Manhattan. It had held on the longest and now with nearly zero congregants the shul was closing its doors for good.

 

To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


 
Top-Down Theory
Shoshana Friedman Our true currency, the accomplishments we value most
Strive for What Binds Us
Yonoson Rosenblum The chareidi community represents something of an oasis
Embracing Victimhood
Eytan Kobre Combating the allure of victimhood
The Kids Are Going to Camp, the Parents Are Going Broke
Miriam Klein Adelman Mindy has to feel good; it doesn’t matter that I feel ba...
Work/Life Solutions with Carlos Wigle
Moe Mernick “Rejection is Hashem’s protection” 
How to Create a Simple 900-Page Novel
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman All of us can reset the titles of our own lives
Stand There or Do Something
Baruch S. Fertel, MD, MPA, FACEP It’s called collaborative care, and it works miracles
I'm Here — Are You Ready?
Riki Goldstein Upbeat and catchy, but still makes listeners think
Back in Time
Riki Goldstein "I wish I could recapture that excitement"
Mixed Messages
Riki Goldstein The unsung craftsmen who give albums their special touch
Go in Peace
Faigy Peritzman Inner peace makes us vessels for blessing
All Work and No Play
Sarah Chana Radcliffe A life only about doing your duties loses all its color
Dying to Believe
With Rav Moshe Wolfson, written by Baila Vorhand Emunah peshutah is the force behind Jewish continuity