History of Young Israel of Flatbush
Young Israel of Flatbush came into existence over eighty-five years ago. The Young Israel of Flatbush stands proud and tall after many years of service to the Flatbush community, the greater Jewish community, and its achievements on an international level on behalf of our Jewish brethren. Aaron J. Sorscher “, a saintly individual, came to the Young Israel in 1932. Having been trained at City College as an accountant and going to law school, he felt unfulfilled and elected to satisfy his life’s work by serving the Jewish community. He was the kind of man about whom legends are written. Tall and gaunt, he cared little about outer trappings. He wrote, typed and spoke well, serving at the same and different times as Executive Director, Youth Director and Religious Director. His real vocation was missionary to the Jews, if there is such a thing. Time meant nothing to him. In any setting, he was bent on making young and old better Jews, and often succeeded. To him nothing was impossible. Mr. Sorscher lovingly held on to his position until his untimely passing in January 1963. He and Rabbi Sharfman formed an inseparable pair. Reverend Sorscher was especially gifted in his approach to youth and kiroov (which was an unknown word in those days), was a superb Baal Tefillah and Baal Koreh, and tended to the needs of the congregation with dignity, kindness, and dedication. His saintly wife, Jennie, may she be well, and their wonderful children, continue the legacy of this unusual individual whom we were privileged to have. For a few years, Charles Aranov served as Religious Director, until his Aliyah. It was during the Goldschmidt administration that Reverend Michael Friedman joined us after serving as Sexton in the Chovevai Torah Congregation in Crown Heights. Rochel and Reverend Friedman, Holocaust survivors, endeared themselves to Young Israel from the moment they arrived in 1966. Michael, looking virtually the same as he did thirty years ago, continues in his daily tasks, without fanfare. Attending to the minyan and our needs in the shul. Reverend Friedman is also a masterful Baal Tefillah, expert Baal Koreh, and handles all his appointed tasks with style and dignity. He has truly made a profession out of his duties, which came to include the sale of lulavim and esrogim, preparation of tasty and zesty kiddushim and, of course, the legendary herring and onions. For his magnificent years of service, Young Israel tendered its 69th Anniversary Banquet in honor of Rochel and Reverend Michael Friedman. May they continue to have good health and strength, and many more years in which we can derive benefit from them. Special mention must also be made of our office staff who, over the years, included Executive Directors, Rabbi Saul Eisner, Rabbi Harry Lax, Rabbi David Warshaw, and Rabbi Zvi Friedman, as well as dedicated and devoted secretaries and bookkeepers, notably, Miriam Goldstein and our long-standing devoted Sandy Alper.
The Decade of the Twenty’s Flatbush in those days was a pleasant, quiet, suburban area, with beautiful homes, islands in the middle of many streets and few religious Jews. To see a second-generation American Jew in the synagogue even for the purpose of saying Kaddish was a rare phenomenon. There was no Yeshivah or effective Talmud Torah. Young Israel was the prime mover in reshaping our neighborhood into what it is today There were other synagogues in the area, and they undoubtedly contributed to its religious development. Some were older and wealthier. Indeed, quite a number of Young Israel members also were members of the Talmud Torah of Flatbush and the East Midwood Jewish Center, the latter a conservative synagogue. The first large synagogue in Flatbush was the Jewish Communal Center, a conservative institution, followed by the East Midwood Jewish Center. Those who leaned toward Orthodoxy organized the Ahavath Achim Achei Joseph, which became the Talmud Torah of Flatbush. It was here that Young Israel of Flatbush was organized by a small group on December 6, 1921. On March 3, 1922, the first Young Israel Sabbath Services were held in the basement of the Ahavat Achim Achai Joseph Synagogue. You capture a bit of the flavor of the time when you read what the first president of Young Israel, Ben Levine, wrote on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary: “We set about cleaning up the debris and the old church paraphernalia which were in the basement long before the synagogue took over the church property. Max Weissman, Jack Weissman, Nat Weissman and I donned overalls and cleaned up, painted and whitewashed the basement. Even the ladies, Berdie Levine and Hattie Frankel, left their maids working at home and donned aprons and cleaned the floors and windows of the potential Young Israel of Flatbush.” Rabbi Sharfman wrote “I disclose my plebeian origin if I say that I have not previously met dedicated Orthodox young people who had left ‘maids working at home’ and came to perform the menial tasks necessary for the foundation of an Orthodox institution.” The building site on the corner of Coney Island Avenue and Avenue I was purchased on February 20, 1923. The first phase of the building was completed in time for the Yomim Noraim services held on September 10, 1923. These services were held in the basement of the new building (the only part that was ready) which had a temporary roof, and all the worshippers received a free shower bath, while a storm was raging outside. Rabbi Sharfman wrote that he learned these things, as well as the memories of the efforts of a relative handful of young people, among whom the Weissman family was outstanding, in putting up a building much larger than required, equipping it with athletic facilities and club rooms, and supporting it in such a manner that it influenced the entire area of Flatbush. Ben Levine, Marcus Rotenberg, Adolph Flam, Fred Frankel, Jacob Kestenbaum, Nathan Weissman and David Kamerman had served in the Presidency in the early years of Young Israel. The courtly, courteous Adolph Flam, the gentle and saintly Fred Frankel, the outspoken Jacob Kestenbaum, the forceful and imaginative Nathan Weissman, together with his parents, sisters and brothers Max and Jack, were men of vision. They were the founders and builders of the organization. They knew that a mere holding action for Jewish survival was doomed to failure. There were no suitable religious schools to educate their children, no clubs to provide the climate for religious growth. They organized youth groups, took children on outings and picnics, brought in lecturers and gave up most of their free hours to counseling, leading and guiding the youth of the community. They established a Talmud Torah for the children of the neighborhood at nominal tuition. Young Israel had begun to transform the Flatbush community. Elsewhere in America at the time, secular Jews were the leaders. In Flatbush it had become fashionable to be “religious.” To have a succah, a lulav and esrog, to send a child to the Yeshivah of Flatbush, to be a sabbath observer, were matters of pride and socially commendable. Youngsters were beginning to walk the streets with yarmulkas on their heads. The vast majority of Jews in Flatbush were still irreligious and unaffiliated but, to be a leader in the community, one had to be a “religious” Jew. Most of those who came once to pray in the Young Israel remained to become committed to a Torah life, for Young Israel had elevated the observance of Judaism to a status of social pride as well as conscience. Our early leaders, together with Joel Braverman, joined in going from house to house, seeking children who could be persuaded to enter a yeshivah. In 1927 the Yeshivah of Flatbush was organized. Harry Fromberg, one of our most active members, later to become President of the National Council, was its first President. The first classes were held in the Young Israel building. Because of the inability to raise sufficient funds for the early completion of the new building, additional construction could not resume until October 19, 1925. It was hoped that the building could be completed by the target date of July 1, 1926, but the final dedication was not celebrated until February 4,1929. A full week of festivities was held, culminating with a gala Dedication Dinner on March 3, 1929. The first decade was coming to a close. Calvin Coolidge was President and shortly the country would be plunged into an economic depression. But Young Israel was to continue its phenomenal growth, leaving a lasting legacy that endures today, after eighty-five years.
The Decade of the Thirty’s Prior to the Holocaust, the entire European Continent was home to the world’s center of Jewish Scholarship. Millions of Jews lived in its cities and towns. Yeshivos and organizations flourished. Jewish life, though difficult and economically hard-pressed for many, was growing. But danger to our people was on the Horizon. With the rise of the German Third Reich, clouds of Anti-Semitism were darkening the skies. By far, the dominant event in the glorious history of Young Israel of Flatbush occurred with the arrival of Rabbi Solomon J. Sharfman. His assumption of the pulpit, which today, nearly sixty years later, is known and respected the world over, has gained Young Israel fame and fortune. The young Rabbi, filled with youthful vigor, inspired the youth with his storehouse of knowledge and his ball-playing ability. In spite of his youth, he appealed to the older generation with his gifted oratorical skills, his Torah approach and teaching abilities. He was, and still is, a marvelous speaker with, a twinkle in his eyes, warm, kind and effective, coupled with that infectious smile and indestructible spirit. Shabbos Chanukah, 1938, marked Rabbi Sharfman’s first meeting with Young Israel of Flatbush. He was still single, just turned twenty-three years of age, fresh out of Chofetz Chaim Seminary, and having just graduated from Columbia Law School. An extraordinary severe blizzard had just subsided, and his first lecture was on Friday night. A trickling of adults attended, together with an enthusiastic group of teenagers, called “the Jewels.” Rabbi Sharfman has indicated many times that he owes them his election, since that revised impromptu lecture was received with warmth and enthusiasm. The Rabbi spoke about the heavy -weight boxing championship bout between Max Schmelling and Joe Louis, the Nazi vs. the American. The bout, earlier that week, which was won by Louis, was compared to the victory of the Jews over the Greeks and the subsequent miracle of Chanukah. Of that group at the first lecture, nearly sixty years later, Miles Heller, a past President, is still active and vibrant. Others included Irving Kanarek and Maurice Rosenblatt, who are still members today. Ben Fromberg was President at the time, one of the strongest we have ever had. The gravelly voice, tough demeanor and firm outspokenness were enough to cow any beginner. You would not imagine that he wrote verse, loved lark, and made loyal and permanent friends more easily than anyone. At their first meeting he said, “Rabbi, I am stubborn, have a temper and may seem unbending, but if you think you are right, never waver, and you’ll see that I will come around to do what you want.” And he did. He arranged some of our most splendid dinners. But at one time he was ready to cancel an entire affair when Rabbi Sharfman objected to the caterer, at a loss of over ten thousand dollars. He took the blame for every error that the Rabbi made and shielded him at every turn. He set the precedent that the Shulchan Aruch superseded Board and Constitution. In 1940, in the home of Bernard Marinoff, the Gemilas Chasodim of Flatbush was organized. Young Israel was among the prime movers. Ben as active at the helm in one capacity or another, together with several other stalwart members of the Shul, including Moe Rosenberg, Joe Rosenzweig and Willie Cohen. Rabbi Julius Cohen was the principal of our Talmud Torah, having come to Young Israel five years earlier. He was one of the most beloved Presidents of Young Israel of Manhattan. He headed the combined Talmud Torah under the joint auspices of Young Israel and the Talmud Torah of Flatbush. No Talmud Torah child will ever forget him. He was that rare combination of the brilliant educator, deeply pious Jew and concerned human being whose life is directed solely by the values of the Torah. At the time that Rabbi Sharfman assumed the pulpit, Young Israel branches were not accustomed to rabbis. For a short time, Young Israel did engage a rabbi, and the experience smoothed the path for Rabbi Sharfman. In addition, there was a sizable group of very learned men, former students of European yeshivos, who went out of their way to support and cooperate with the new Rabbi. Nathan Sackler, Isaac Tarshis, Samuel Silverman and Rabbi Benjamin Greenberg had been conducting Talmud and Torah classes in Young Israel for many years. They are gone now, but we can never forget them. Rabbi Sharfman wrote: “They sat, spoke and taught like disciples before a venerable Rabbi. You would not imagine that they possessed great scholarship in all branches of Jewish knowledge. They suggested that all classes be conducted by me. I asked them to continue teaching in Yiddish, while my classes were in the English language. I opened and closed their classes at the beginning and end of the year. At some of the Shiurim they would argue fervently and vehemently. On the following days, they would come to my home to apologize for any aggravation they might have caused me. I told them that, on the contrary, I was fortunate to escape with a whole skin from their searching analyses.”
T h e Decade of the Forty’s Simeon F. Gross succeeded Ben Fromberg in the Presidency in 1939. The Jewish world has changed a great deal since then. A measure of the time is the fact that it was startling to find someone with his manner, bearing, appearance and background in an Orthodox Synagogue. Yet no one was more strict about the letter of the law than he. He could not tolerate hypocrisy. He and his wife, Rose, were respected and cherished by everyone. He held office the longest-five years. During his administration, the finances were placed in order; the mortgage on the building was burned. Scores of our young people volunteered or were drafted into the Armed Services in World War II. Simeon set up a system of contact with them, and almost all became members of Young Israel when they returned. Simeon was taken to heaven in a flower of manhood. His name is a byword in the golden book of Young Israel. During the war, our youth served in all theaters of operation and in all ranks. Arrangements were made for special “Gitten” to avoid the problem of Aguna. Together with the National Council which served magnificently in the crisis, our young people were briefed on Jewish Laws in warfare. Young Israel was a center for Civil Defense. Our people had their share of fears and anguish. We had prisoners and wounded. We lost four young men who were closely identified with Young Israel and our youth groups: Irwin Nerenberg, Harold Rosenblatt, Philip M. Sachs and Martin Skolnick-a husband and sons of some of our finest families. We also lost a wonderful son in the Korean War: Arthur Levine. He was the first Jewish volunteer in Brooklyn. The innocent dead are always mourned, these even more because they were as devoted to G-d as to the country. When Louis Simon next assumed the Presidency in 1944, we began to believe the rumors of death camps and the Final Solution. Our ignorance and disbelief are inexcusable, but we were lulled into a false sense of security. Franklin D. Roosevelt was almost like the Messiah in the Jewish eyes. Surely he would never permit a Holocaust. The very concept was so monstrous that our minds boggled at the idea and sought relief through disbelief. By 1944 the fantastic stories could no longer be denied. Young Israel joined in protests and life-saving endeavors. We attended rallies and joined delegations to Washington. On one Shabbos morning, Irving Bunim and Rabbi Abraham Kalmanowitz of the Mirrer Yeshiva drove to Young Israel and we had an emergency appeal. We raised $75,000 for Vaad Hahatzalah. Joe Rosenzweig contributed $50,000 himself. He and Moe Rosenberg became very active in Vaad Hahatzalah and raised large sums privately from our members. Hundreds of affidavits were sent abroad after the war to rescue survivors. At one time the State Department refused to accept anymore, informing us that seventeen Assistant Rabbis for one Synagogue were too many. The Klausenberger Rebbe and his yeshivah received their first and strongest support from Young Israel of Flatbush, as did the Mirrer Yeshivah. Louis Simon, a quiet, pious, unassuming man, filled the office of President with great distinction. He arranged one of the finest lecture series for the community that we have ever had. He organized musicals and theatricals. He made the Torah classes and youth clubs his personal concern. During his administration, Young Israel began intensive drives to help the “illegal immigration” into Israel and to raise the finances to assist the efforts that finally culminated in the establishment of the State of Israel. Lou was one of the most respectful, as well as most respected, leaders we have ever had. In addition, he was a wonderful Baal Tefillah, especially on the Yomim Noraim. He organized choirs, and his warm, gentle, kind personality added to his excellent leadership qualities. Joe Herskowitz assumed the Presidency in 1946. He was one of the members of the team called “Joe and Moe.” The second was Moses Rosenberg. To both of them, the cause of youth was most sacred. They frequently left Young Israel at 2:00 o’clock in the morning, playing, talking, advising and organizing youth. Joe Herskowitz was a dreamer who acted out his dreams. The Board of Trustees was the watchdog of the treasury. Joe dreamed of a completely renovated Young Israel. Before the Board even knew what was happening, commitments had been made and work started that eventually came close to $50,000 when the dollar was still worth 100 cents. As President, Joe made good on every cent, and Young Israel profited from the income besides. The first Shomer Shabbos delicatessen and Shomer Shabbos grocery were established with the financial assistance of Young Israel. It was on Joe’s initiative that Young Israel had become a patron of almost every Rebbe in the community. A dynamo of activity, Joe’s dreams and labors for Young Israel and for our beloved country were legendary. It was during Joe’s administration that the State of Israel was created. How we listened to the radio in those days, trying to catch every bit of the news we could from the League of Nations. How we worried about the plight of the refugees and raised funds for them. And then, the news of the world body, voting for the establishment of the tiny State of Israel, created bedlam in the Jewish community. The Friday evening of May 14, 1948, is forever etched in our minds: the tears, the emotion, the singing of Shehecheyanu and Hatikvah in shul. Rabbi Sharfman, crying, the tears flowing and everyone ecstatic with joy and thanks to Hashem, for the miracle of the rebirth of our beloved homeland, after almost two thousand years of exile! During the war of Independence, fantastic sums were raised for arms and ambulances. At one appeal for the Haganah, the Schreiber family, notably Adolph and Sam, who were residents of our community, donated eighty thousand undershirts. This type of philanthropy and chesed by so many of our members really made Young Israel, under the inspired leadership of Rabbi Sharfman, the address of virtually every organization. Every year there was an Israel Bond Drive, many appeals for yeshivos and other worthy causes, and the Congregation responded with open arms, and generous funds were contributed. Indeed, the administration of Joe Herskowitz was capped with the idea that Young Israel of Flatbush was a true chesed organization, bent on helping the downtrodden and unfortunate. Lionel Golub, an attorney with a blooming voice, next assumed Young Israel’s highest office in 1949. He reminded us all of an English barrister with the diction and precise words spoken so eloquently. He gave legal services gratis to many organizations and especially to Mizrachi women where his wife, Mollie, had been one of the principal leaders from its beginning. It was during his presidency that we attained a measure of decorum approaching the standards that Young Israels should have. Some of the finest drives of for UJA and Bonds were organized during his presidency. A shomer shabbos bakery was established, and Young Israel underwrote its solvency. Almost until his last day on earth, he stood in the rear of the Synagogue, helping with Siddurim and Taleisim, a credit to his Rabbinic father and a blessing to all of Israel. He was a one-man welcoming committee and cared very much for the welfare of any guest who would walk into Shul.
The Decade of the Fifty’s Sidney Landes, an attorney, became President in 1950, only a short time after moving into the community. His wife, Estelle, served several brilliant terms as President of our Sisterhood. Sidney was equally excellent as a speaker and as a chazzan. He had great wit and charm, was a born leader who knew where he was going and was able to persuade others to follow him. He did not erect any buildings or create new institutions, but his influence, and through him Young Israel’s influence, on the community was great and lasting. He restored the deteriorating relationship between Young Israel and the Yeshivah of Flatbush and established the combined Talmud Torah of the Young Israel and the Talmud Torah Synagogue. He started the movement for a unified Kashruth authority in Flatbush. Under his leadership, Young Israel first began to explore the means to establish a Mikveh in the area. He was a warmhearted, extremely personable individual and had a positive influence on everyone whom he came in contact. It is interesting to note that in those days, philanthropy was a byword in Young Israel. Eddie Silver became District Attorney of Kings County. It was totally unheard of for an Orthodox Jew to assume such a high elected office. Nowadays, it is almost taken for granted. During the fledgling years of the State of Israel, Eddie was very instrumental in assisting the young country to obtain arms; sometimes ships were loaded under the cover of darkness. There was a time when three of our finest members were Presidents of major yeshivos. At the same time, Nat Kevelson was President of Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, Joe Rosenzweig was President of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Nat Levine was President of Yeshivas Tifereth Yerushalayim. Young Israel was also extremely active in the Yeshivah of Flatbush. Many of our members served simultaneously on the Boards of both organizations, some also serving as President of the Yeshivah and the Young Israel. The Rhine family, one of only two five generation families in Young Israel of Flatbush, has consistently been associated with service to the Jewish community. When Lester arrived with his beautiful wife, Jessie, and their young family in 1950, he immediately became active and rose to the Presidency in 1953. Lester, luminous, dynamic and gregarious, caused Young Israel to hum with a plethora of social and educational activities. He was a product of the uptown Talmud Torah and grew up in Harlem. Outgoing and personable. he had the poise and ability to inspire and lead others. Together with his Aishes Chayil, they were both active and lived Young Israel all the time. Prior to her untimely passing, Jessie was one of the most loved and respected Sisterhood Presidents, combining her love of G-d and Judaism into a vibrant and active group. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren follow their tradition of service and action on behalf of their fellow Jews. Howard, their elder son, currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and has been involved in many organizations, including COLPA and the Orthodox Union, as well as having rendered outstanding and yeoman service to Young Israel of Flatbush since his college days. During the Rhine administration, the Ronnell Building, next to the post office on Coney Island Avenue, was purchased by Young Israel of Flatbush. It was to be the new home for the burgeoning youth programs of the Synagogue. Together with the able and active leadership of Joseph Weiner and Abe Hiltzik, a remarkably successful fund-raising drive was undertaken and completed. Young Israel was on the way to expansion. In addition, an intensive campaign was instituted for the Flatbush Mikveh. Nat Kevelson and Joe Rosenzweig took leadership roles, with Nat underwriting the cost and seeing through the completion by personally investing approximately $1 00,000. Lester inspired Young Israel to take the leading organizational role, and finally the Mikveh was completed in 1955, with a memorable dedication ceremony. Lester, with all his activity, led the congregation with his sweet, melodious voice, plays the piano and has been recognized by many organizations for his leadership, philanthropy and service. Indeed, he was and still remains an outstanding press agent for Young Israel. Joe Weiner succeeded Lester Rhine as President in 1956. He was an accountant by trade but, more than that, he was an avid student of Torah and Jew without compromise. Joe accomplished a great deal during his term in office and worked day and night to acquire additional property so that a new Youth Center and Synagogue could be built to accommodate the overflow crowds who regularly davened with us. He engaged architects and solicited bids, and we were well on the way to expansion. Perhaps the greatest achievement in Joe’s administration was that the mechitza was raised to its current level. Young Israel of Flatbush was built in conformity with Jewish tradition, and the mechitza was patterned after the size and form of several of those outstanding synagogues in Manhattan. Rabbi Sharfman had never been happy with it, but change would have caused a revolution. It was Joe’s firmness and tact that contributed to the relative ease with which the necessary resolutions were passed, leading to the speedy acceptance of the new arrangements in the Synagogue. While a few families did resign, Rabbi Sharfman wrote that he “felt most grateful to him [Joe] for the feat that was achieved in raising the mechitza without too much turmoil.” The Decade of the Sixties Building Plans were drawn up and the Synagogue was abuzz with excitement and enthusiasm when Irwin Cohen took office in 1959. He was bubbly, friendly, warm and personable, and the shul followed his lead. During his Presidency, a small lot adjacent to the Ronnell property and the building housing the post office were purchased. Irwin was remarkably persuasive, and only he could summon the patience and strength to weather the tremendous building campaign that was undertaken. There were endless meetings, visits to homes and businesses to solicit funds and organize telephone campaigns. A noted public relations firm was engaged to assist in fund-raising. Beautiful brochures were printed, and over a quarter of a million dollars was pledged. But the vision did not materialize. The post office would not budge, and nothing could be done. Yet the activity, enthusiasm and growth in membership during Irwin’s administration has never been excelled. Without any fanfare, Irwin, who was extremely charitable and good-natured, frequently paid expenses out of his own pocket and never sought honor or recognition. His sudden and untimely passing was a tragedy that was felt by every single one of our members. The 1960s marked continued growth for the Young Israel as well as witnessing remarkable changes on the world scene. John F. Kennedy was President of the United States and represented a new, youthful period in America. Soviet Russia continued to extend its communism in Europe where the decimated Jewish community began its movement for freedom. Our beloved State of Israel, home to the remnants of the Holocaust, growing yet still under attack from its neighbors, would soon be involved in the miraculous six day war, and Judaism in Flatbush was flourishing. Yeshivos were moving here, including Torah Vodaath, Chaim Berlin, and Bais Yaakov, to be followed by others. Hasidic Rebbes were establishing shteiblach; our community was becoming much more observant, and new shomrei shabbos stores were opening. The Yeshivah of Flatbush our neighboring institution, established a high school and, Baruch Hashem, Young Israel, under the indefatigable strength, courage, conviction and inspiration of our beloved Rabbi Sharfman, who was to celebrate his twenty-fifth year of extraordinary leadership, was active and playing leading roles in many organizations. He was becoming a national and international leader of great stature. Meetings with dignitaries and political leaders on both local and national level, as well as leaders in Israel, were happening quite frequently, and the Rabbi was called upon to speak or to lend assistance to every worthy cause. As we were growing, so was our Rabbi. The longer he was with us, the more inspiring he became, speaking out in his magnificent oratorical style and evoking laughter, joy, warmth and tears from his listeners. In 1962, Herman Rosenbaum assumed the Presidency. He had previously served in many capacities, including different official positions, until he was persuaded to accept our highest office. His sense of humor enlivened many a meeting and he would never miss the Rabbi’s Shabbos afternoon class. Herman established close ties to the National Council. After leaving office he was called upon to head the national movement, an office he had held for five years, serving with distinction. He arranged for the profitable sale of the properties that were now of no use to Young Israel. The sale was completed during the administration of Fred Goldschmidt. The proceeds were placed in special accounts to be employed only when expansion would again be undertaken. New classes were organized, so that Torah continued to be taught every night of the week. There had been talk for many years about air conditioning. Herman labored hard until the entire building was air conditioned. He remains a principal advisor and consultant of succeeding administrations, and his opinion is valued and often decisive. He is respected for his ability, admired for exemplary sincerity, and held with affection for kindness, goodness and nobility in thought and deed. Fred Goldschmidt was the leader who bridged the generation gap in Young Israel. He came to the Presidency in 1965, organized the Young Marrieds, established a minyan for the Intermediates and the children’s groups, and worked together with our extremely capable youth director, Herbert Schechter, until there was hardly enough room on Shabbos to accommodate all the activities. Fred was the natural leader who commanded respect and acquired an intense loyalty of his associates. The Torah inspires his life, his home and his attitudes. He is eminently sociable, considerate and perceptive. He involved young people in the committees, offices and numerous activities of his administration. He gave as much attention to detai1s as to general policy; to the individual as well as to the organization. Our building was entirely refurbished, new Seforim were purchased, and extensive exploration was begun with a view to expansion. He galvanized Young Israel into intensive efforts for the State of Israel and brought what was probably the largest delegation from the city to the national demonstration in Washington in 1967. Young Israel has always been noisy, bubbling with activity and spirit. Fred gave it a new look and infused it with even greater vitality. Still active and involved in carrying out projects which he initiated, he is an integral partner in the administrations which have followed his own. It was during his presidency that Reverend Michael Friedman came to our Synagogue, and it was during and after the six-day war, in June 1967, that Rabbi Sharfman spoke out continuously about the miraculous victory of our beloved State of Israel and inspired us to give of ourselves as never before, for our land and our people. Sidney Feinberg, personable, hard-working and always, even today, busy on the Young Israel scene, was our next President. He assumed office in 1968 and was a tireless, energetic individual. He assumed so many burdens in his Young Israel and business life that it did undermine his health for a while. But he never relinquished his responsibilities to Young Israel or his leadership role in directing its growth. Sidney is kindly, painstaking and exacting. He plans thoroughly and builds solidly. He moved the Bimah to the center of the Synagogue and improved the seating arrangements. He worked out a complete plan for increasing the income and assuring the finances of Young Israel. He raised the level of giving in the annual Kol Nidre drives and the Journal to more than double what it had been. In addition, he worked with committees in all areas of our civic responsibilities. Thanks to Sidney, Young Israel is deeply involved and plays a leading part in the civic affairs of the Flatbush Jewish community and beyond. Rabbi Sharfman wrote: “There are so many things I would want to relate that I have witnessed in the thirty-three years I have been with Young Israel. They require a book rather than an article or paper. I have participated in comedies and tragedies, shared in the lives of many people, seen babies grow to become distinguished in business and the professions; was shattered by the Holocaust and transfigured by the rebirth of Israel. The years have been, in the main, good years. Young Israel cemented the neighborhood into a solid, religious and healthy community, because Young Israel is a unique institution. Where else can one find a membership that uncomplainingly responds to appeals which are made at intervals of three weeks or less throughout the year? Where are sums raised for Yeshivos, Federation, Bonds, U.J. A., Soviet Jewry and other variegated causes, that equal those raised in Young Israel? Where will men and women respond with such alacrity to help individuals in need as in Young Israel? Where else can one find a score of doctors who consider Shmiros Shabbos and Mitzvos a privilege rather then a burden, numerous young attorneys who make the time to protect individual Jews and the Jewish community without thought of compensation? It is a Kiddush Hashem to see the Synagogue overflowing every shabbos with men and women outstanding in education, the professions, business and the arts. Few institutions can boast the large number of heads of yeshivos and philanthropic institutions who pray, work and plan together for the welfare of the Jewish world communities. This is Young Israel of Flatbush.” Indeed, how true those words are thirty-five years after they were written. The Decade of the Seventies
The 1970s saw some of the truly glorious years in our illustrious history. The Synagogue hummed with activity as a bright, articulate “thirty-ish” youngster assumed the Presidency. Every Shabbos, standing room-only crowds filled the shul. Every evening, programs, activities and classes filled the building. Allen Bodner, youthful, energetic, bright and personable, assumed our highest office in 1970. He was just thirty, and at that time was our youngest President. He was practically born into Young Israel, was a leader in our youth organizations and the outstanding student in his class in the elementary and high schools of the Yeshivah of Flatbush. His marriage to Robin, daughter of Suri and Jack Goldman, one of our best-loved couples in the Young Israel, was truly a Young Israel simcha. The charming and personable Robin currently serves as Co-President of our Sisterhood. Allen is a brilliant attorney and a remarkable leader. Learned, cultured, a wonderful Baal Koreh and fascinating speaker, during his term he organized a lecture series, Ulpanim, classes and so many youth activities that facilities had to be found outside the Young Israel building to house them all. Together with a blue-ribbon committee headed by Lou Simon, Allen organized a program of celebrations for the fiftieth year of Young Israel that was to be remembered for its innovation, participation and truly memorable events. The year began with a beautiful Shabbos davening led by Gerry Greenman and the Young Israel Boy’s Choir. World-famous Chazzanim graced the Bimah. We had lectures by well-known personalities including Elie Wiesel, a magnificent Siyyum HaSefer coupled with a parade and beautiful ceremony in Shul, where the final letters of the Torah were inscribed. The Sisterhood also presented a fashion show depicting fashions of earlier days, and the Young Israel Players performed flawlessly in an enchanting production of “Young at Fifty”, which was a compilation of previous productions. As should have been expected, the Golden Jubilee banquet in honor of our past Presidents was held at the Waldorf Astoria, attended by over six hundred people. In addition, the civic, Soviet Jewry and Education Commissions, with representatives of all ages involved, undertook programs that infused spirituality and knowledge into Flatbush and had a great impact on the Jewish community at large. An additional adult minyan in the Beth Medrash was formed as well as a junior congregation, and intermediate and collegiate minyanim. During Allen’s term, the Bodner and Goldman families donated funds to refurbish the Beth Medrash which was renamed in memory of Jack Goldman, one of our most beloved personalities. Miles Heller was practically born into Young Israel of Flatbush. The son of Elsie and Elias Heller, one of the outstanding couples of Young Israel, Miles came to Young Israel in 1934. He assumed the office of President in 1973, following an illustrious career in Young Israel. He was one of the original “Jewels,” the noted group of youngsters who were part and parcel of Young Israel in the 1930s and 1940s. These young men, funloving yet serious, played an important role in the history of our beloved synagogue. They wrote their own newspaper and later answered the call of their country, serving in all theaters of war. Those who remained, maintained a strong bond with our soldiers serving in the Armed Forces. They also grew within the organization. Among them were Miles, who not only served on almost every major committee in Young Israel of Flatbush, but who became very active in the national movement as well. In his three-year term, one of his most significant accomplishments was the wonderful way he reached out to the Young Marrieds of our community. No President ever did more to attract and retain these young couples. It was important for Miles and his lovely wife, Deborah-daughter of the charismatic and wonderful couple, Ida and Saul Abramson-to secure the future of Young Israel of Flatbush. He wanted these young people to stay here and raise heir families within the confines of our building. His efforts proved successful because most of these young marrieds remained in Flatbush and became full-fledged members of the Shul, eventually becoming officers and leaders. A youth center was of the utmost importance to Miles. Expansion plans were set; committees were formed; new property was purchased. Among his other accomplishments were a large increase in membership, continued growth in activities from preschool through senior citizens’ programs, and emphasis on assistance for Soviet Jewry.His enormous talent and incredible energy during his term of office paved the way for the continued growth and secure future for Young Israel of Flatbush. One of the highlights of Miles Heller’s administration occurred on April 27,1974, when the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, visited our Shul. The Synagogue was packed with standees who listened to words of wisdom from this scholarly individual. Since then, subsequent Chief Rabbis have visited with us, but the impact of the first visit ever, left an indelible imprint. In 1976, Matthew J. Maryles took over the office of President. The eldest of five brothers, Matt grew up in Williamsburgh, is a CPA and an attorney. Prior to his assumption of the Presidency, he was already active in Jewish organizational life, having been a member of many communal and charitable institutions. It was in his administration that yeoman efforts were continued to build the new youth center. Hundreds of children were attending the youth program, and our facilities just could not accommodate them. Matt was an extremely capable organizer and administrator. His dream of a greater youth program with youngsters participating from different Synagogues in a cohesive unit, under the banner of a community organization with the assistance of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, was eagerly anticipated. The new building was to be the centerpiece, and funds were raised, committees were formed, and the dream was soon going to be reality. A historic meeting of the membership took place on November 10,1977, at which time a packed assemblage voted an assessment on the membership for financing the building. Matt was an extremely hard worker, dedicated and energetic, quick-thinking, bright and articulate. He is a gifted speaker, expert Baal Koresh, and possesses an infectious sense of humor. During his term of office, he was responsible for raising the level of charity, especially for causes within the Young Israel, to unprecedented levels. Matt implored us to become active in Jewish communal affairs, attend rallies, write letters, and lend support to many important causes with pen and pocket. Sheldon David closed the decade of the 1970s with his rise to the Presidency in 1979. He was one of the youngest Presidents that Young Israel ever had. The second son of Sylvia and Herman David, who were stalwart financial supporters of the Synagogue and who undertook the support of many projects with dignity and modesty, Sheldon was indeed ready for the tasks that lay before him. He grew up in the organization, was President of the lntermediates, the lntercollegiate group and also the Young Marrieds Commission and truly demonstrated his leadership abilities prior to his assumption of the Presidency. Twenty years later, he remained active, having served as chairman of the Appeals Committee and Co-Chairman of the Diamond Jubilee Anniversary Year. He and his lovely wife, Marilyn, and their family have truly typified a Young Israel family, with Torah, Avodah and Gemilat Chasadim. During Sheldon’s administration, in his first year, he arranged for the Synagogue to be painted, which had previously been done in 1952. Other repairs were made as well. To finance such a mammoth project, Sheldon organized a Dedication Program and appointed Barry Rosner as Chairman. Windows and benches in the Synagogue were dedicated by the membership, which greatly assisted in the financing of the refurbishment of the Shul. The Young Marrieds were beginning to raise families, and many of them remained in Flatbush, purchasing homes and becoming active in the community. An Eruv was of paramount importance to them. At first, Rabbi Sharfman was reluctant because of potential opposition. However, after many meetings with the leading Rabbis and Poskim, and with the subsequent approval of the Vaad Harabanim, the concept of the Eruv finally was beginning to take shape. Sheldon appointed Eli Feit to head the project. Funds had to raised and a contractor was hired. Permits needed to be obtained, and the cooperation of the entire Vaad Harabanim and community synagogues was necessary. The project was awesome. The opposition by some in the community was growing, yet the patience and fortitude of Rabbi Sharfman and the dedicated leadership of many young people in the synagogue made this dream into reality. Young Israel, as usual, always was in the lead when it came to major fund-raising efforts and communal involvement. The eruv was no exception. For a period of years, appeals had to be made often because of repair work which was necessitated by vandalism perpetrated by those who opposed the Eruv, and once again it was Young Israel that could be counted on to help, more than any other synagogue. At the end of Sheldon’s term in office, he accomplished his goals. The Young Israel was still maintaining its growth, young marrieds were moving in, and he left office with the organization in good financial shape. His chesed, service and leadership ability, coupled with his melodious voice and Baal Koreh ability, continue to make indelible impression and reflect the contributions of the entire David family.
Decade of the Eighties Moshe Sorscher ascended to the Presidency in 1982. Coming from an extensive background of service to Young Israel of Flatbush, Moshe was born in the Synagogue. His sainted father, Aaron had worked for Young Israel of Flatbush for thirty years as Executive Director, Youth Director and Religious Director. Moshe’s administration was characterized by warmth, innovative projects and fiscal restraint. For each of his three years in office, he had a major theme. In the first year it was to increase membership with his campaign of “a new member a week; in the second year, the magnificent and orderly transition of retirement of Rabbi Sharfman and arrival of Rabbi Auman;finally, a revitalization of the Youth Program. Outstanding speakers were brought into the shul, the constitution was rewritten, and his term was filled with high level of excitement and enthusiasm. One of the most difficult issues during Moshe’s Presidency was the final acknowledgment of the failure to build the Youth Cenier. Funds that had been contributed were returned after the sale of the building, and it seemed that Young Israel, after two failed expansion drives, would never again attempt such a project. Without doubt, the most important event to influence the Sorscher administration and the future of Young Israel of Flatbush occurred on Shabbos Chanukah, 1982. It was exactly forty-four years to the day, and Rabbi Sharfman, amid tears and emotion, announced to the congregation that he was going to fulfill a lifelong dream: Aliyah to Israel. A search committee was formed, with Eli Feit as Chairman, and a Year of Dedication to Rabbi Sharfman was to follow, with Jay Schechter as Chairman. Spectacular events honoring the Rabbi and Rebbetzin took place. Included were a congressional reception, a visit by the Chief Rabbis of Israel, a City Hall ceremony, and a farewell Shabbos on June 15,1984. The highlight of The Decade of the Eighties the year was the Dinner weekend on January 14-15, 1984. Chazzan Ben-Zion Miller officiated on Shabbos, accompanied by the Young Israel Men’s Choir. The shul was filled to overflowing. The melodious voices, singing in perfect harmony, added chills of emotion, touching every heart in attendance. The dinner was the largest in our history, by far, as over seven hundred people paid tribute to our beloved Rabbi and Rebbetzin Sharfman. The dancing, multimedia presentation and beautiful library edition of our Journal are forever etched in our minds. The farewell Shabbos was equally emotional. Allen Bodner delivered a magnificent tribute to our beloved Rabbi, and the Rabbi’s response overflowed with gratitude. That week, our beloved Rabbi and Rebbetzin bade farewell to their grateful congregation. In the meantime, the Rabbinical Search Committee, represented by a cross-section of the membership, conducted their deliberations with dignity and quiet diplomacy. Many interviews and meetings were conducted, and finally the youthful, eager and scholarly Rabbi Kenneth Auman was overwhelmingly elected at an overflow meeting of the general membership on May 31, 1984. Rabbi Auman’s arrival in the last year of the Sorscher administration was marked by the wonderful cooperation of the entire membership, who greeted the new Rabbi, his Rebbetzin and beautiful family with warmth and enthusiasm. A memorable installation ceremony was held on May 12, 1985, graced by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, President of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Auman’s alma mater. Rabbi Sharfman returned from Israel to be the installing officer. Rabbi Auman’s spiritual leadership of our synagogue, combined with the retention of old traditions, immediately created a relationship between Rabbi and Congregation that grew stronger each day. For the membership, in the beginning, the transition was sometimes a bit difficult, but the cooperation and enthusiasm, coupled with the dynamic and innovative spirit of the young Rabbi, made the change from Rabbi Sharfman to Rabbi Auman much smoother. The indefatigable Jay Schechter rose to the office of President in 1985. He, like his immediate predecessors, was born and raised within the Young Israel. Jay is a third-generation Young Israelite, following in the footsteps of his illustrious parents, Estelle and Rabbi Philip Schechter, and his sainted grandparents, Ida and Charles Eckstein, one of the most charismatic and philanthropic couples in the history of Young Israel of Flatbush. Prior to his assumption of the Presidency, Jay served in virtually every capacity in Young Israel. He was ready for the highest office after just completing the Chairmanship of the Year of Dedication for Rabbi Sharfman. He distinguished himself by his incredible and boundless energy, and his term of office was marked by a high degree of activity, including dedications, the reinvigoration of the Young Marrieds commission, and the refurbishment of the building, including the installation of a new air conditioning system. One of the most touching moments in Jay’s administration occurred during the weekend of April 4-5, 1986. Rabbi Sharfman, who was living in Israel, had been very involved in the offices of the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Shapira. While he was visiting in the States, the chief Rabbi was coming to New York, and it was arranged that he would spend Shabbos in Flatbush. There were two moments that really stood out in that very exciting weekend. The first occurred on ,Friday evening, as the chief Rabbi was being escorted to Shul by Rabbi Auman and an entourage of our members. Waiting at the entrance to the Young Israel was Rabbi Sharfman and several dozen of our members. As the Chief Rabbi and his group inched closer to the Shul, Rabbi Sharfman, together with those waiting at the Young Israel, began to greet the scholarly Rabbi. Then Rabbi Shapira and Rabbi Sharfman embraced, as both groups joined with song and dance. The second moment remembered by all occurred as Rabbi Sharfman introduced the Chief Rabbi for the sermon. The Congregation stood, hushed, with nary a whisper to be heard. With a poetic introduction, the chief Rabbi spoke about unity as the membership drank in his words. Truly one of the historic events in our shul was at hand. It was also in Jay’s administration, on December 6, 1987, that Young Israel participated in great numbers at a rally in Washington on behalf of Soviet Jewry in what was at the time one of the largest demonstrations ever held in our nation’s capital. Jay also brought in our first computer system and was instrumental in having the outside of the building completely repaired. During his administration, the auditorium was renamed the Alexander Bohm Auditorium in memory of Alexander Bohm, one of the Young Israel’s best known and best-loved individuals. The lobby was also renamed in memory of Sophie and Joseph Weiner, with the funds used for building improvement. Under Rabbi Auman’s leadership, the Young Israel continued its manifold activities on behalf of the local and international Jewish community. The Welfare Fund, under the able guidance of Jacob Krumbein, continued its service, as did the Soviet Jewry Commission, under the leadership of the charismatic and personable Joseph Silber. A new program was established, the Bikur Cholim Society, headed by Thelma Rhode and Linda Markowitz. Public appeals continued for local causes, Israeli institutions and UJA. The Chevra Kadisha Society, with its dedicated volunteers under the able direction of Dudley Feit and Sam Wietschner, continued its services. A Daf Yomi program was instituted. The Youth Program continued to provide our children with a myriad of activities under the chairmanship of Milton Farkas and Dennis Eisenberg, recently including direction by Sheila Shmueli. The Sisterhood has also been very active, with their social and fundraising activities. The Shalach Manot project, theater parties, meetings and luncheons with exciting speakers, have all but filled the calendar. In recent years, Sisterhood also sponsored several Broadway shows. In addition to “Fiddler on the Roof,” we enjoyed wonderful productions of “Guys and Dolls” and “Oklahoma,” performed before thrilled audiences. Sisterhood also sponsored numerous other activities, including book review luncheons, membership teas, innovative programs, and the very popular Simchas Torah Supperette. While all this activity has been going on, Rabbi Auman and his personable and charming wife, Joanne, and their growing family have endeared themselves wholeheartedly to our Synagogue and community. Always on call, the Rabbi has often taken strong positions on such issues as Kashrut, gitten, the plight of agunot, and activity on behalf of those in need. He continues to be a beacon of light and inspiration to our membership and beyond Eli Feit rose to the Presidency in 1988. A product of the Lower East Side, active in the Yeshiva Rabbi Jacob Joseph, an attorney and member of COLPA, Eli immediately became active in Young Israel as soon as he moved to Flatbush. Prior to his assumption of our highest office, Eli demonstrated his quiet but extremely effective leadership abilities by serving as a chairman of the Greater Flatbush Eruv and later by leading the Rabbinic Search Committee that brought Rabbi Auman to our Synagogue Eli’s Presidency was abuzz with activity. He instituted the 10:00 p.m. Maariv Minyan, refurbished the Jack Goldman Beth Hamedrash with new lighting and air conditioning. During his tenure, the staircases were replaced. Twice Eli appeared on television, and a very memorable Shabbos occurred when Natan Sharansky, newly liberated from prison in Soviet Russia, spent a weekend in Young Israel. Working hand in hand with and under the inspiration of Rabbi Auman, the Outreach Program was established in June 1990. Recognizing that we could not be an island unto ourselves, Eli took the lead and, under an able committee headed by Moshe Sorscher, initiated a series of classes and a modest Friday evening service. This soon blossomed into a Shabbos morning minyan. In order to provide a suitable place for the worshippers, in November 1990 the Beth Hamedrash minyan was moved to an 8:00 a.m. Hashkamah minyan. The transition was not easy, but the program grew and flourished, and after six years it continues to provide an invaluable opportunity to our fellow Jews, including many Russian emigres, to learn about our glorious culture During Eli’s administration, Young Israel paid tribute to Reverend and Mrs. Michael Friedman at its 69th annual dinner, and the magnificent outpouring of warmth and friendship truly created a memorable evening. Until this day, Eli is constantly busy, currently serving as Gabbai, always offering advice and counsel in a warm, friendly manner.
The Decade of the Nineties
World events concerning the Jewish community once again dominated the headlines in the early 90’s. Included were the fall of the Soviet Union, the Oslo Peace Process, and the Crown Heights riots. The Jewish community, and especially in Flatbush, continued its burgeoning growth. Observant Jews were being elected to high office, including our own members, Noach Dear and Dov Hikind. Others were serving in every area of political and religious life as well as achieving academic and social prominence. Young Israel continued to hum with political action. Speakers and lecturers were brought to our building, and the Synagogue was even sought after the programs of outside organizations The Flatbush community was being recognized as a leading center for Orthodoxy. Even though the faces of the neighborhood has dramatically changed over the years, Young Israel continued to retain its place as a bastion of aims and ideals under which we were organized eighty-five years ago. Young Israel can certainly take great pride in paving the way for the growth of our community. Flatbush abounds with Yeshivot, Shomrei Shabbat establishments, shteiblach, and is home to many organizations as well. Members of our Synagogue became active in these institutions and, in many instances, Young Israel helped some of them in their infancy. Barry Rosner followed Eli to the Presidency in 1991. Professionally, Barry’s ability and expertise in the real estate business and his manifold activities on the Community Board enabled him to institute an elaborate security system for our building. Barry previously served Young Israel as an officer and as a chairman of the Dedications committee. Substantial funds were raised for building improvement, including the replacement of the roof, which was done during his administration. When the Yeshivah of Flatbush closed its Shabbos morning minyan, Barry was responsible for bringing in the young marrieds and establishing a separate minyan for them. But perhaps his greatest achievement was an emphasis on fiscal management. His monthly newsletter, written with clarity and style, was eagerly awaited by the entire membership. Barry continues his activity on behalf of the Young Israel and is always called upon for his opinions and ideas.
We thank Hashem for His kindness and for His blessings. As we go forth into the future, we ask Him for good health, arichat yamim, nachas from our families, growth in Torah and Maasim Tovim, and for peace for ourselves and our brethren in Israel.