Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rededicating Ourselves at Chanukah

One of the great pleasures of Judaism is that despite whatever difficulties are going about in the world, be it in the Middle East or in the economy, the holidays give us an opportunity to step out of the maelstrom for a moment or two, catch our bearings and refresh ourselves before stepping back into daily life, with all its currents and eddies. This ability to pause and take stock is even stronger when you can do it together with someone else. This year is our fourth year having a joint Chanukah party with State Senator Bill Perkins, his staff and friends. In order to celebrate our 100th anniversary, Senator Perkins invited other local politicians and religious leaders to the party including Assemblymember Keith Wright, Controller John Liu, Congressmember Kirsten Gillibrand, Councilmember Robert Jackson and Borough President Scott Stringer. A number of the local leaders sent representatives, but John Liu, Robert Jackson and Scott Stringer came in person. All of them spoke beautifully, and most brought framed proclamations. I was surprised and touched. Of course, those of us who maintain shuls and other non-profit institutions believe they are important but it is thrilling to receive the outside corroboration.

Our Chanukah party also gave me the opportunity to briefly touch upon the significance of Chanukah. I recounted the story of the desecration of the Temple and of its rededication by the Maccabees. I noted that as important as the building was, the victory of the Maccabees had a much greater significance. It meant that idea that there is one God continued to flourish. And not only this, but that God demands ethical behaviour and responsibility, to Him and to our fellow humans, was and continues to be extraordinarily important. Old Broadway's location in Harlem is a special blessing for us. Many of our congregants - wonderful people - live in Harlem. Moreover, since Harlem is in many ways a religious community we are deeply respected. Finally, we have an opportunity to bring Yiddishkeyt and Torah to the neighborhood - a tremendous zekhus.

May Hashem grant that we may be able to continue and thrive for many more years!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our 100th Anniversary Gala Journal Dinner

The Landy and Sadoff Family
The Old Broadway Synagogue celebrated its hundredth anniversary on November 2, 2011 with an elegant dinner at the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The dinner honored four outstanding individuals who have made tremendous contributions to the Old Broadway Synagogue, the greater Jewish community, or both.

Gloria Sadoff Landy grew up in Old Broadway and her parents were deeply devoted to the synagogue and to helping others. Gloria has become a leader in Holocaust education at the United Nations and has taken leadership roles in the United Synagogue, the World Jewish Congress and other organizations. She and her husband have continued to support the Old Broadway Synagogue throughout the years and we are delighted to honor her.
Dale Brown, family & friends

Dale Brown also grew up in the shul. Dale's grandparents, Davis and Fanny Brown were among the founders of the synagogue and were its lay leaders for the rest of their lives. Dale father, Bernie, of blessed memory, and her uncles and aunts grew up in the shul and also took leadership roles. Dale, who is a ballet instructor (and a student of the ballet legend, Balanchine) has continued her family's dedication to the Old Broadway Synagogue. She manages the synagogue's cemetery section at the Riverside Cemetery in New Jersey, she was instrumental in creating a garden in the back courtyard, and she has been involved in many other projects at the shul. We are delighted to honor her as well.
Avi Terry, family & friends

Avi Terry is an extraordinarily warm and generous individual who has been associated with the Old Broadway Synagogue for the last 40 years. He arranges the baalei keriah (the Torah readers) and is involved in many other aspects of the shul. He is as wise as he is kind and he is a tremendous asset to our community. We are very pleased to honor him as well. Paul Radensky was elected president of the Old Broadway Synagogue in June 2001 and he is still plugging away. Under his administration, new bathrooms were installed, the stained-glass in the facade was restored, the boiler was replaced, the garden wall rebuilt, the sukkah was rebuilt, the chimney was repaired and the roof was completely replaced. Paul has also arranged monthly (more or less) speakers and arranged for weekly shiurim, including Daniel Fridman's wonderful Sunday morning shiur, which is now on its fifth year. We say mazel tov to Paul as well!
Rabbi Aryeh Mezei

Jay Worenklein did a lovely job as the master of ceremonies and invited each of the honorees to speak. Afterwards, Rabbi Aryeh Mezei spoke to the guests very movingly about the legacy of Rabbi and Mrs. Kret. Towards the end of the evening, we were delighted to have Senator Bill Perkins join us, and he presented a beautiful proclamation which now hangs in our kiddush room.

Paul Radensky, Bill Perkins & Jay Worenklein
We assembled a lovely journal to accompany the dinner. To visit the journal (and to learn more about our honorees) please click here.

We now must turn our attention to the next 100 years. We expect that the number of Jews living in Harlem will continue to rise. We hope that many of these will join us. We hope to continue with our shiurim and our speakers and maybe the various cards will come together to enable us to hire a rabbi who would be appropriate for our unusual community.

We also plan to continue to restore our beautiful historic building. On the agenda are retrofitting our doors with panic hardware, upgrading the electrical system, restoring or recreating our damaged tin ceiling, restoring the plaster walls, recreating the beautiful stenciling and rebuilding the lobby floor.

It is my prayer that just as Davis and Fanny Brown, Morris and Rachel Schiff, Sam and Riva Landy, Rabbi and Mrs. Kret and many others created our shul and then handed it to us, that we too should have the merit to pass on our kehilah kedoshah to the next generation.

* * * * * * 
We would like to acknowledge the following advertisers and supporters who were not included in the anniversary journal:
West Side Market
2171 Broadway
New York, NY 10024

Beacon Paint and Hardware
In Honor of Dale Brown

Ruth Brown and Barbara Hawthorn
In Honor of Dale Brown

Jack Gordon
In Honor of Dale Brown

Gail Kachadurian McCallon, Esq.
In Honor of Dale Brown

Naomi Mark and Rabbi Tzvi Blanchard
In Honor of Paul Radensky

Gideon and Shara Schor
In Honor of Paul Radensky

Gal and Jessica Davidovitch

Ellen Stern
In Honor of Dale Brown

Muriel Hertan
In Honor of Gloria Landy

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cholent Review - Shabbos Parashas Matos

As we made our way through Sefer Bamidbar, I continued to experiment with the cholent recipe. I put a whole bottle of barbecue sauce in the vegetarian cholent and it came out something like Jewish Boston baked beans. I also poured a bottle in the fleishig cholent and while I did not try it (I am trying to cut down my meat consumption) those who did thought it was good. Admittedly, a few dastardly souls dared to say there was too much barbecue sauce in the cholent, but there are always spoil-sports in any crowd. Nevertheless, I must confess that after two weeks straight of barbecue cholent, I myself was also ready for something different.

I think I found it. For Shabbos Parashas Matos I made my usual Morroccan dafina with chickpeas, barley (I am not brave enough yet to do it with rice), cumin, salt, pepper, olive oil and who eggs. I did add a new ingredient that made a big difference: wheat kernels, which are also know as a wheat berries. In the past, I added the wheat kernels in place of the barley. The cholent would often come out soupy and undercooked because the wheat does not soak up water the way the barley does, and somehow, there has to be the right proportion of dry ingredients to water in order the the cholent to cook properly. For this last cholent, I put a full cup of barley in and a half a cup of wheat kernels, plus the regular chickpeas, spices, oil and eggs. The additional wheat kernels had a great effect. The cholent was completely cooked through. even the chickpeas, which tend to be hard, were soft and fully cooked. And the wheat kernels were chewy and gave the entire cholent a sense of weightiness. In other words, the density and the texture were perfect, something which is hard to achieve in a vegetarian cholent. The following week, for Shabbos Parashas Masei, I made my usual Ashkenazi cholent but added the additional half cup of wheat kernels, and this improved this cholent's texture and density as well. Ah... the sweet taste of success! Have a good Shabbos!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Founding of the Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi in 1911

This posting is less a presentation about the founding of our congregation than a plea to my readers to share whatever information they have about its history. At least for the time being, the specific circumstances about the establishment of the shul are hidden of the mists of time. As Jeffrey Gurock, author of, When Harlem Was Jewish, has shown, Harlem had a large Jewish community numbering in the tens if not the hundreds of thousands before World War I. Those Jews that had been in America longer and were wealthier and in some cases more acculturated settled in central Harlem. There they build Temple Israel, Ohab Zedek and the Institutional Synagogue. The poorer an often immigrant Jews settled in east Harlem. I would argue that the same held true, perhaps to a lesser extent, in the neighborhood where the shul is located (Gurock argues that Manhattanville is technically not part of Harlem, and therefore did include this area in his book. I disagree since I have found many instances in which this neighbor is referred to as part of Harlem). I may be projecting from a later period, but it is my sense that Manhattanville  was always mixed. In the 1940s, it had Jews, Irish, Germans and undoubtedly others. It was, as far as I can tell, a working class neighborhood. The Jews of this area had been born abroad and owned small businesses. The Certificate of  Incorporation was signed on October 30, 1911 and was certified by the County Clerk on November 6, 1911 (I had mistakenly thought the day was June 11, 1911).  The original trustees of the congregation and the signatories to the Certificate of Incorporation were Charles Leischer, Osias Fuhrman, Wold Teitlebaum, Isaac Mittleman, Morris Schiff and Simon Teicher. I have not been in touch with the descendants of any of these individuals with the exception of Morris Schiff. I have been corresponding the Eddie Kahn, Morris and Rachel Schiff's grandson, and also Shirley Kline Bennett, who is their great-granddaughter.Ms. Bennett is also a descendant of the Schwartz family, who provided possibly two presidents, Nathan Schwartz, who is listed as president in the 1918 Jewish Communal Register of New York City and Joseph Schwartz, who was president of the congregation in the 1960s and 1970s. The congregation's Hebrew school, or Talmud Torah, came into being around the same time as the congregation did if not shortly beforehand (the name of the congregation, Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi suggests that it was organized, in part, to support the Talmud Torah). The early years must have been challenging. Although the United States did not enter World War I until 1917, the Eastern front went through the Poland and Lithuania and exactly the heartland of Jewish Eastern Europe. 1918 also brought the Spanish Influenza, which claimed victims among the members of the shul. Finally, the members of the shul were not wealthy. Nevertheless, after being in existence for 12 years, they built our shul, the Old Broadway Synagogue. Possibly original blueprints show that they intended to build a three story building, but seem to have run out of money and stopped at the second floor. Nevertheless, it was an impressive accomplishment. While it needs some tender loving care, the shul continues to serve us well today - a gift from the founding generation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

100 Years of the Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi, Inc.

On June 11, 1911, a group of Jewish men in the West Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville incorporated their newly created minyan as the Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi, Inc. After nine years of meeting in rented spaces, the congregation bought a small, two story house at 15 Old Broadway. In 1923, the congregation constructed their house of worship, the Old Broadway Synagogue. This is the building that we daven in today. In this post, and God willing in the ones that follow, I hope to examine aspects of our shul's history during its first century.

A visual focal point for our synagogue has long been the large stained glass window the dominates the facade of the building. Of course, from the late 1960s until 2003, there was no window and in its place, was a bricked in arch with a marble Star of David in the center. While we take the stained glass window for granted, this was not always the case. In the 1960s, it was a liability. Teens would through stones through it from the street, and children from the congregation would sometimes push the panes of glass through their leading so that they would fall on the sidewalk. Consequently, the window always let in a lot of air and it kept the Kiddush Room breezier than one would like. A few years ago, I proudly told Mrs. Kret that we had restored the stained glass window. She was horrified - the old one was so drafty! I assured her that the new window was well sealed (it has safety glass in front of it), but I think she was still a little skeptical.

Since the original window did not exist anymore, recreating it was a challenge. We have some black and white photos that have the window in it, including one of the Ladies Auxiliary in which Mrs. Kret appears, and we have the tax photo of the facade that was taken by New York City in 1939 or 1940. These are great photos but they were challenging to use in determining the original color scheme of the windows. Fortunately, some of the original glass remained in the transom window (the small  window over the front door) and we were able to extrapolate from the remaining glass and the black and white photos what the original scheme really was.

Coming up with the design for the stained glass window was a bit tricky. The tax photo and the Ladies Auxiliary photo showed one design, but in the old dinner journals, we found a photograph of the shul in which the window had a different design, which I am including in this blog posting. The photo is from the thirtieth anniversary celebration of the congregation in 1942, but I assume the photo is actually much older. The design in the tax photo matches that of the Ladies Auxiliary, so this must be the later design. When recreating the stained glass facade (paid for by the Upper Manhattan Fund for Historic Preservation, which was administered by the New York Landmarks Conservancy), we had to decide which design to recreate, the older, possibly original, one and that of the 1940s and 1950s. Ultimately, we chose the latter scheme, which the Gil Studio beautifully executed.  I think you will agree it was a good choice.

Selecting the glass for the new stained glass window

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Passover Message, 5771

Nissan 5771
April 2011

Dear Friends,

I hope this letter finds you and your families well.

We often take for granted Passover’s connection with spring. The holiday always takes place in the spring, and of course the Seder includes spring symbols such as the karpas and the egg. That Passover should take place in the spring is not a forgone conclusion. If we had a pure lunar calendar, Passover would start about ten days earlier each year, and over a few decades, would actually take place in every season of the year. Our sages created a calendar with a lunar foundation, but with the provision of an additional month (Adar sheni) added seven times in a nineteen year cycle. Why all the effort? The Torah states explicitly that God brought us out in chodesh ha-aviv, “the month of spring.” Rashi explains that God treated us with special kindness by bringing us out of Egypt at a time that was “neither hot nor cold nor rainy.” It has been a long and hard winter here in New York. I am grateful, at long last, to feel the warmth of the new season, the trees beginning to the flower and to see the sun finally coming out. As we enjoy spring, we should remember that this too is a kindness from God and we should use it to recall how God rescued us long ago, but ultimately, enabled us to be here today.

We are proud to report that thanks to your generous response to our emergency roof appeal and the help of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, which has agreed to loan us the reminder of the money on favorable terms, the work on the new roof is almost done. We are thrilled that the new roof will protect the shul for the next generation and will allow us to continue restoring the building.  Our next projects are installing emergency exit hardware on all the doors in the sanctuary and repairing and repainting the tin ceiling. After that, we hope to take down the paneling, upgrade the electrical system, rebuild the plaster walls and restore the decorative stenciling.

We have had an impressive array of learning programs this year. Daniel Fridman a rabbinical student at Yeshiva University, continues to give his excellent shiur every Sunday morning, and since the fall, we have been fortunate to have had a series of thoughtful Shabbos lectures given by Wendy Amsellem of the Drisha Institute, Mishael Zion of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Raphy Rosen of Columbia University, and Professor Rabbi David Flatto of Pennsylvania State University.

Under Rhonda Taylor’s leadership, we now have women’s group that meets every month on the Sunday before Rosh Chodesh. Funded by a grant from New York State, and led ably by Dr. Eliott Kahn, we are hosting a phenomenal Jewish music series. The most recent program was a wonderful concert with the Avram Pengas Ensemble, which featured Sephardic and Israeli music. We look forward to future events.

This year is the one hundredth anniversary of our founding, in June 1911. We are organizing a gala anniversary dinner, which will take place, G-d willing, on October 30, 2011. I am proud to announce our honorees: Gloria Landy, Dale Brown, Avi Terry, and myself. Please save the date for the dinner. We hope you will join us.

As you may know, Mrs. Chana Kret passed away in November 2010. She was a wonderful person in her own right – warm, outgoing and optimistic - and also a true ezer kenegdo, a partner with Rabbi Kret in everything that he did. Together Mrs. Kret and Rabbi Kret led our congregation, officially for forty eight years and also informally for many years after Rabbi Kret’s retirement. They are both deeply missed.

Although Rabbi and Mrs. Kret are no longer with us, we are striving to maintain their spirit of welcoming newcomers, warmth, and Torah. We are also working to keep our building safe and usable for generations to come. Please continue to support our efforts, and with your help the Old Broadway Synagogue will continue to be a very special and very holy place for years to come.

Warm regards for a happy and kosher Passover,

Paul Radensky

Hoppin' Harlem Chanukah Simchah, December 4, 2010

Here are some videos from one of our recent shul Chanukah parties. Keyboard by Pete Sokolow, vocals by Dr. Eliott Kahn. Where else but the Old Broadway Synagogue? Filmed by Chris Kahn.

Please stay tuned for more videos from our holiday simchas!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cholent Review - Shabbos Parashas Tazria: What??? Green Cholent???

It is true, the thought of green cholent is hardly appetizing, but if we think of green as being ecologically friendly then this adjective for traditional Jewish rocket fuel does not sound so bad. So, one might hesitatingly ask, how does one make "green" cholent?  Now I must confess, I really don't know, except as a tangent let me say that I once had the cholent that was prepared for another Jewish community that hails from the other side of the world. It really was green, and it did not sit well on this Ashkenazi palate, nor in this Ashkenazi stomach. But I digress... Here is how I made my cholent, "green" or at least, here is how I was trying to be ecologically responsible: Every week we use lots of styrofoam bowls and plastic spoons for the cholent. Couldn't I reduce the trash stream a little by using real bowls and spoons? (There is, of course, a position, that the amount of energy and resources used to wash dishes negates, to some degree, their advantage over disposables, but I am convinced that the non-disposable stuff still is "greener.") I began researching different products. I initially thought about buying melamine bowls and then I learned that melamine in made with urea and formaldehyde, and is generally safe unless it is heated too much or microwaved, so I decided this was too complicated for me. Then I thought about buying some of the bowls with the beautiful Chinese designs on them at the local odd lots store. Then I read that some of the glazes in China are made with lead, and the more colorful they are, the greater likelihood that they will contain lead. In the end, following the suggestion of my student, I  purchased 30 plain ivory bowls and 30 stainless steel spoons at Fishs Eddy, a great place if you are looking for that sort of thing. After shlepping the bowls and spoons home (they were heavy), I brought them to the mikvah to be toiveled. This in itself was an adventure because I brought them in on an afternoon when the mikvah gets a lot of traffic. Finally, I was able to use them on Shabbos. I felt great serving the cholent on something a lot more Shabbosdik and elegant than styrofoam and I was delighted to be able to do something positive for the environment. After kiddush, I collected the bowls in a bin to let them soak, and then cleaned them quickly and easily after Shabbos. I am looking forward to using them next Shabbos.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Purim Simchah at Old Broadway, March 19, 2011

Here are some short clips from our Purim Party this year. Thanks to a grant from New York State, Eliott Kahn was able to put together a wonderful Purim Simchah with the Avram Pengas Ensemble. He is planning a concert for women during chol ha-moed Pesach and other exciting programs during the rest of the year. Please stay tuned!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cholent Review - Shabbos Parashas Tetzaveh

I made very successful vegetarian cholent this past Shabbos, and I would to share the fortunate concatenation of events that made it happen. First of all, I realized that most of my vegetarian cholents are largely potatoes and therefore very starchy. So I decided to reduce the number of potatoes and compensate by increasing the amount of beans, since these contain also contain fiber and should be healthier than potatoes. Now I have tried this in the past and discovered that one of the defects of the otherwise mighty six quart Hamilton Beach Stay-N-Go slow cooker is that it tends to cook at a low temperature (when on low; high is too high), which means that dried beans such as kidneys do not get cooked all the way through. So, I compensated for this problem by soaking the kidney beans overnight, which definitely helped. Secondly, I added hot water to the pot (until all the ingredients were covered) as opposed to the cold or room temperature water that I normally add. In the end I estimate that in included two to two and a half cup beans (a cup or so of kidneys and the same amount of large lima beans). I chopped up and threw in six large carrots, one large potato (as opposed to two) and a sweet potato. Finally, I added some button mushrooms together with some dried shiitake mushrooms. For flavoring I hard three teaspoons salt, one teaspoon black pepper, a healthy amount of paprika and olive oil. After I pulled the cholent off the heat on Shabbos morning, I added some soy sauce to taste. It was a delicious cholent with a perfect, almost creamy consistency. Geshmak!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Daniel Fridman's Shiurim are Now Online!

We are pleased to announce that the first installment of Daniel Fridman's shiurim (classes) are now available on this blog on the Shiurim page. Daniel's presentations cover a wide variety of 
topics and are always richly informed by textual sources. You are invited to join us every Sunday morning following 8:00am davening for breakfast and learning, or if you prefer, feel free to listen to the shiurim here. Of course, they are better in person!