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


MM217
 
Not a Newspaper
Shoshana Friedman A deeper difference between newspapers and magazines
Services in Shards
Rabbi Moshe Grylak “Such a painful, malicious lie!”
The Pittsburgh Protests: All Politics All the Time
Yonoson Rosenblum The old rule — “no enemies on the left” — still applies
Danger: School Crossing
Eytan Kobre The hypocrisy of YAFFED’s assertion is breathtaking
Real Laughter and Real Tears
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger The two sides of a life lived with emunah
Work/Life Solutions with Eli Langer
Moe Mernick I was proud to be “that guy with the yarmulke”
Is Ktchong! a Mitzvah? When Prayer and Charity Collide
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman These cannot both be done effectively at the same time
An Honest Shidduch
Jacob L. Freedman “Baruch Hashem I’m cured, and this will be my secret”
A Blessing in Disguise
Riki Goldstein “I never thought the song would catch on as it has”
Ishay and Motti Strike a Common Chord
Riki Goldstein Bringing together two worlds of Jewish music
What’s your favorite Motzaei Shabbos niggun?
Riki Goldstein From the holy and separate back to the mundane
Rightfully Mine
Faigy Peritzman Don’t regret the job you didn’t land; it was never yours
Growing Greener Grass
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Nurture your blessings and watch them blossom
My Way or the High Way
Rebbetzin Debbie Greenblatt We know what we want — but do we know what He wants?