I -- and others -- have written much about and, hey, even taken part in, the process of seeking out, rediscovering and documenting former synagogues that have been transformed for other use in Europe.....Here's a fascinating story by Benjamin Kabin Weitzenkorn from the local newspaper the Queens Chronicle about a woman's search for "lost synagogues" in outer districts of New York City.
On her birthday in 1999, Ellen Levitt decided to look for her mother’s former synagogue in Flatbush. The building was still there, but the congregation was gone, replaced by a Pentecostal Christian one. The news dismayed her mother, but for Levitt, it sparked an idea: to find and document other former synagogues, and to create a record so others could find them as well.
In 2009, her project became a book called “The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn,” and this past November, Levitt released her latest installment, “The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens.”
As the project grew, Levitt discovered that synagogues that had not been burned or torn down were adapted for other uses. Some became private homes, one is a correctional facility, another is used for city maintenance and one is even a mosque — but most are now churches. Read moreIn New York, these transformations usually came about because of normal demographic changes that saw Jews moving from one neighborhood to another (often from small towns to cities or from to urban centers and suburbs), while in post-World War II Europe synagogues were most often orphaned by the murder of their community in the Holocaust, suppression by post-war communist regimes, or emigration of survivors. In Bulgaria, for example, whose Jews survived the Shoah, synagogues were left abandoned when almost all Jews moved to Israel.
Levitt found that many of the former Jewish sites still -- as in Europe -- often retained evidence of their original function.
The former Corona Hebrew School on 53rd Avenue, for example, boasts large stars of David on either side of its gate. Names written in Hebrew are displayed on pillars and walls on the porch. After the Jewish congregation left, the building became a private residence and music studio, and was home to Madonna, pre-fame, in the late 1970s.
Another great example is the former Young Israel of Laurelton on 228th Street. It’s a boxy 1956 building that displays a cornerstone with the Hebrew and secular dates. But its most intriguing feature is the huge window above the main entrance in the shape of a Jewish star, an emblem that the Jamaica-Queens Wesleyan Church has kept as is.
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