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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Machane Chodosh’

Old-Time Orthodox Shul Celebrates 70th Anniversary

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

   Yes, it is your father’s synagogue, and it had just observed its 70th anniversary.

 

   The liturgy, prayer books, and services at Congregation Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills, Queens, hearken to the Orthodoxy of an earlier generation. A professional cantor leads the services every Shabbat, as the congregants follow using their Birnbaum siddurim.

 

   In the women’s section, doilies and hats still outnumber wigs. On the other side of the mechitza, one sees only a handful of the black hats that have become standard in many Orthodox circles.

 

   “You learn a lot from these people,” said Shoshana Glass, 32, a young face in a mostly elderly population. Glass considers the median age of the congregants a plus. “I am there for a purpose, helping and visiting them.”

 

   “They’re accepting of people,” said congregant Barry Schnall. “They don’t judge.” At 49, he is also on the younger side of the age average. “You can be friends with older people. They have more character.”

 

 


Rabbi Manfred Gans

 

   Any member over age 80 has a story of survival to tell. “Many of our members are survivors,” said Rabbi Manfred Gans. The city, in fact, commemorated them with a street corner sign pointing directly at the shul.

 

   Founded in late 1939 as a landsmanshaft of recent German Jewish immigrants in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, the synagogue took the name Machane Chodosh, or “New Camp,” reflecting its new American home.

 

   The congregation spent its first 19 years renting out space within existing local synagogues. Like any teenager, the maturing shul eventually moved into its own home, two blocks from Ebbets Field.

 

   By the time the shul opened its new building, however, the longtime Dodgers ballpark was in the process of being demolished, and that section of Brooklyn was facing a gradual slide into urban decay.

 

   Some of the members moved to Forest Hills, and Rabbi Gans proposed relocating the shul in Queens. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, the membership was reduced to a hardy handful as the crime rate skyrocketed.

 

   By 1977 it had become clear that Machane Chodosh had no future in its Brooklyn neighborhood. The aron kodesh, stained glass windows, and memorial plaques were removed for safekeeping, and the sanctuary became a Haitian church.

 

   “We were a kehillah without a synagogue,” said Rabbi Gans.

 

   They had seen it before. Many members of the congregation had experienced Kristallnacht, concentration camps, and the battlefield. They were determined to keep the synagogue alive in a more stable neighborhood. Ground was broken in Forest Hills in March 1979.

 

   “Our shul did something which only a few shuls could accomplish,” said Gans.

 

   The home was new, but the services remained true to tradition.

 

   While many Orthodox synagogues feature chazzanut during the high holidays, cantor Joel Gafni, 34, leads the congregation every Shabbat at Machane Chodosh.

 

   “My first time, I was surprised,” said Gafni. “Such a small shul.”

 

   It took three auditions before Gafni was selected. It may not look like a “choral synagogue,” but the cantor’s schedule is a busy one. “It was the best of possibilities,” he said. “A full-time position in New York, the center of the world.”

 

   Rabbi Gans, the mora d’asra of the synagogue for 50 years, is an integral part of its storied history. He observed his 85th birthday in April, and there are no signs of retiring.

 

   As the shul’s founders aged and passed on, Rabbi Gans took measures to welcome new immigrants to the synagogue. In some ways, the new membership hearkens to an earlier period. Most of the students in the synagogue’s Talmud Torah attend public school while taking Sunday classes at the synagogue.

 

   “They are on the fringes of Jewish society,” said Talmud Torah director Richard Schneider. “If they don’t get a love of Judaism now, they’ll assimilate.” Schneider reactivated the Talmud Torah in 1997, with a class of two boys. It has since ballooned to over 100 students.

 

   (On a personal note, it was at Machane Chodosh that I learned to read Hebrew and lain the weekly parsha. It was also where I learned to appreciate a timeless Orthodoxy personified by a rabbi who reads several newspapers a day, is well-versed in classical music, diligently calls any member who is ill, and delivers memorable sermons.)

 

   Each week as Shabbat comes to a close, congregants recite Psalm 144 in a melody that member Gary Jacoby calls the “Yekkie national anthem.” The congregation slowly whispers through the last pages of the motzei Shabbat Maariv. Nobody dares to whisper about sports, business, or politics. It is an inspiring sight.

 

   The service ends with Gafni’s bold voice benching Havdalah. Congregants prepare for a new week filled with pride in this unique shul that has a history like few others.

A Lesson In Love

Wednesday, April 7th, 2004

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being a guest at a Shabbaton hosted by Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills, N.Y. The shul, made up of refugees of Nazi Germany as well as Holocaust survivors, has been in existence for over 60 years, and its spiritual leader, Rabbi Manfred Gans, has led the congregation for many of those years. The shul’s continued vitality is a testimony to Jewish continuity.

The Scholar in Residence at the Shabbaton was Rabbi Rafael Grossman of the West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan, a past president of the Beth Din of America and Jewish Press columnist.

Rabbi Grossman discussed two seemingly disparate, but actually connected themes: Jewish continuity, and the human emotion of love.

In speaking of Jewish continuity, the rabbi pointed out the tendency of many Jews to be somewhat uncomfortable, even apologetic, at the notion of Jewish intelligence or chosenness. But we are smart and dedicated to world betterment, and one need only look at our contributions to bettering the lot of mankind to prove this statement. Despite the fact that we comprise less than one percent of the global population – Jews have won over half the Noble Prizes in medicine. If history shows that Jews have been in the forefront of medical, scientific and technological progress – then yes – we are smart, and dedicated to the betterment of all mankind. Why not embrace that label with pride rather than embarrassment? Jews must value their Jewishness.

One of the reasons that there is so much assimilation and intermarriage in our midst is that many Jews are ignorant of the special role and gifts of the Jewish people. Worse than the apathy toward their Jewishness is the self-hatred that takes root in many Jewish individuals, who in their intense ignorance and dislike of who they are, go out of their way to side with the Hamans of the world who wish to destroy us.

Ironically, the descendants of Ishmael don’t seem to have this problem with loving themselves, even though considering their huge numbers – they have barely made any noticeable contributions to improve the human condition. They are inordinately proud of their one consistent “gift” to the world – global terrorism – and revel in their religious piety, which expresses itself in acts of suicide and homicide.

There are many minorities who celebrate and advertise their “uniqueness”  (but really shouldn’t) such as gay groups. So why do we Jews – who have much to be proud about – have a problem with acknowledging that based on statistics - we are indeed special?

Rabbi Grossman, in another lecture later on Shabbat, presented what can only be described as an example of true love. The rabbi recounted his experience at his first funeral shortly after assuming his first pulpit. The niftar was a teenage girl who was born severely handicapped – physically and mentally. She needed around the clock care which was provided by her mother, a professional who put her career and social life on hold in order to care for her .

At the funeral, Rabbi Grossman was taken aback by the mother’s intense grief and distress over the loss of her child, as she literally clung to the coffin, wailing. At an appropriate time, Rabbi Grossman asked the mother about her anguished reaction. Understandably, she was upset to lose her child, but was there not some measure of relief, some solace that she could now live a normal life – working, going to simchas, visiting friends, after years of backbreaking care for a person who may have been unaware of her? The mother looked at him with wonder – “Don’t you understand? I loved her!”

That is what real love is – giving, with no expectation or need to get back. Putting someone else first.

For Jews, two of the many dimensions of love that I gleaned from Rabbi Grossman’s lectures can be found under one name – ahavat Yisrael. Loving who you are – as an individual and as part of a great people. Once you have self respect, you can go one step further – “Ve’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha” – loving your neighbor as yourself – and go the extra mile for your friend, your family, your people – unconditionally.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/a-lesson-in-love/2004/04/07/

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