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Nanuet Hebrew Center

AN EARLY HISTORY OF THE “OLD” NANUET HEBREW CENTER

Prepared by Benjamin Garelick, Gabbai

                                                       

 The Original Nanuet Hebrew Center Building (photo from the 1940s)

 

The history of the Nanuet Hebrew Center was written and placed in the cornerstone of the original building, so that in the future, when the building would be demolished to construct a larger synagogue, the history of the Nanuet Hebrew Center would be available for all to read. We want to always remember and appreciate the struggle of the original Jewish families of Nanuet to establish a permanent place to pray, to study, to celebrate and to share our life events. This is our history as submitted by Benjamin Garelick, Gabbai

In 1939, a group of Jewish residents from Nanuet were walking home from High Holiday Services at their Spring Valley synagogue. A heavy rain was falling, and the group decided during their walk that they needed a Shul closer to their home. The families began work immediately on the prospect of holiday services to be held in Nanuet. They were facing many barriers to achieve this goal. First only eight Jewish families were located in Nanuet and therefore they recruited two additional families from Spring Valley to complete the minyan. The first year, the home of the Finkelstein family served as the synagogue.

In 1940, services were held at the Wiener family’s house. After the holidays, the members were invited to the home of the Starks to discuss future plans. The Pesners, Wieners, Garelicks, Ravitzs and Starks attended. It was these five core families who decided to form a congregation and have weekly services. Inasmuch as there was no synagogue, the Stark family offered the use of one of their bungalows and then they purchased two Torahs and several prayer books. This family was greatly responsible for the growth of the Center. Not only did they support it with large monetary contributions, but they also maintained the synagogue from 1940 thru 1948 by paying utility bills and maintaining the bungalow.

In 1940, the newly formed Nanuet Congregation celebrated their first Chanukah services in its own synagogue. Needless to say it was a time of great joy and pride.

In the meantime Nanuet was growing and two new Jewish families moved into the community, the Weisbergs and Liebowitzes who joined the congregation.

In 1942 a committee from the Bardonia congregation approached the Nanuet congregation, and suggested that the two small groups combine and form one united congregation. At that time, there were 20 families in the combined congregations. A meeting was called and it was decided to assume the name of the NANUET HEBREW CENTER.

Work was started towards the building of a Center. Officers were elected: President: Mr. Abraham Pesner, Treasurer; Mr. Radin and Trustees; Messrs. Garelick and Metlitz. Additionally at that time six more families joined: The Englanders, The Braunsteins, The Brauers and The Mendelsohns and their children, The Nemirows and The Karps. Each new member shared in the work of raising funds. Lawn Parties, card parties and other functions were held and $1500 was raised. It was decided to buy a lot to build the Center. Members Jack Pesner and David Moses secured a charter, as legal advisors.

In 1944, the United States entered the Second World War, and it was impossible to consider the construction of a building. However, the Members continued to raise money, and their Journal in 1946 brought in the sum of $5,000. The families of Yokell, Rothman, Pritz, Baker and Solomon became active in the organization.

After the war, a lot was purchased from Mr. Isadore Katz, part owner of the Red & Tan Bus Lines. The site was originally intended as a bus depot, but they decided it was too small for the bus depot, so they sold the land.

Construction of the Center was started in the fall of 1947 without benefit of a mortgage. The completed building was dedicated June 6, 1948, having cost $30,000. A party on our front lawn was a gala event. The entire Nanuet community participated. It was a time of accomplishment, the work of many hands and hearts that created a sense of pride that continues to this day.

In a matter of time we became members of the United Synagogue of America. In keeping with the By-Laws of the Women’s League of the United Synagogue, our women’s group changed its name to Sisterhood.

The services of a Rabbi were obtained in the summer of 1948. Sunday school and Hebrew School classes were instituted for the growing number of children. Additionally the Rabbi was able to obtain religious release hours from the Nanuet Public school and some families chose to have their children attend that program.

The Shabbos Club was organized in 1948 on the opening of the building to provide the Kiddush following religious services. In 1954, the next arm of the Center to be organized was the Men’s Club, which joined the Sisterhood, and the Shabbos Club to raise money and to sponsor cultural and social activities for the welfare of the members.

In the early 1950’s the first youth groups were organized and our teenagers have been of service to the congregation as well as the Jewish community ever since. In 1953 Confirmation classes were established so post Bar/Bat Mitzvah students could continue their Jewish education.

On November 16, 1954, the Alice Mendelson Memorial Library was dedicated and became an integral part of our Center life.

With the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge and extension of the Palisades Interstate Highway, our membership grew rapidly. Plans to add a wing to the existing building were made. On June 23, 1957 groundbreaking ceremonies took place. The new addition, containing five classrooms, Rabbi’s study, auditorium and kitchen was dedicated on February 9, 1959, with a gala evening celebration.

Friday night suppers were instituted during the 1960’s and the first Center family picnic was held at the Metlitz Bungalow Colony.

A cocktail party and dance marked the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Center on April 27, 1969 honoring the first president and his lady, Mr. & Mrs. Abraham Pesner.

In March 1973 “The Great Week-End” of special services and programs celebrated Israel’s 25th anniversary. The Board of Directors voted to bestow title of Rabbi Emeritus upon Dr. Hyman J. Routtenberg, who after thirteen years as our Rabbi, was retiring to Jerusalem. Mrs.

Routtenberg was feted by a “Day with Hannah” with full participation of the Hebrew School children.

A significant change was made to the Sanctuary during the summer of 1973. It was completely refurbished and redesigned to give us needed space on the bimah.

The Yom Kippur War in October 1973 cemented our relations with our brethren in Israel. We gave of ourselves and of our resources with the purchase of a $100,000 State of Israel Bond. But Israel also needed us there, so at least one family each month visited Israel in this time of need. Our children, who travel, study and make aliyah in Israel, continue this relationship.

Women have always had an impact on community life. In 1976 Rose Kiesler was elected our first woman President (also first in Rockland’s Conservative Movement).

We reached another milestone in women’s participation in synagogue life in 1978. Rabbi Simon Potok announced a three-year program to enable our congregation to adapt to the inclusion of women in the Torah Service. They have been and continue to be active participants.

In 1982 a rebuilding program became a reality. We installed air conditioning and beautified our auditorium. We enlarged the sanctuary; installed stained glass windows; refurbished the bathrooms, kitchen and youth lounge; literally the entire building. This work culminated in a gala rededication ceremony on June 12, 1983 at which time we also honored all of our members of 25 or more years for their long time support of our synagogue.

Over the years we have opened our doors to the general community – Senior Citizens Groups, Mid-Rockland Hadassah, Jewish War Veterans, B’nai Brith and Rockland Community College classes. We have also reached out to the community through religious services, Bible classes, Jewish art, music and literature, through festivals and holiday programs.

Our 50th Jubilee (50 years of till going strong) was celebrated in the auditorium with a dinner/show/journal. Excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof were performed by our own Nanuet Hebrew Center troupe of talented performers.

In 1992 New York State Department of Transportation announced a major project to rebuild Route 59 and Middletown Road, which would result in loss of frontage and have a great impact on the quality of synagogue life.

In 1993, we embarked on a five-year journey when a Consultant for the Melville Corp walked into our Center Office. Rabbi Potok spoke with him and found out that the corporation was interested in our property for a business venture. Rabbi suggested that Melville “make an offer that the Nanuet Hebrew Center could not refuse.”

President Mollie Friedman was contacted and with the assistance of a member Kenneth Benjamin negotiations with Melville were begun. A committee was established to select a new building.

In 1994, Rabbi Potok became ill and could not function as the head of the Nanuet Hebrew Center. The Ritual Committee formed the Bimah Team drawing members to lead or assist to ensure that all religious services were maintained. There was an outpouring of support from the Congregation for Rabbi Potok and his family.

At a special Congregational meeting held January 10th, 1995, a motion was passed unanimously which in part stated… a) to convey its existing synagogue property and building to Melville Corp. and b) to acquire a new property (the Burda property) and erect a new synagogue building within a budget approved by the Board of Directors and funded by Melville Corp.

It took four long years because Melville had financial problems, and the property was sold to the Charter Realty so that a Shaw’s supermarket could be built. Two years later and during construction of our new building Shaw’s decides against construction of the supermarket and sells the property to the Stop & Shop Corporation.

At the annual congregation meeting June 12th, 1996, architect Steven Cohen of Princeton, New Jersey presented a rendition of the proposed new building.

At a special Congregational meeting November 21st, 1996, papers were signed transferring title of the Nanuet property to N.P. Realty LLC and the Burda Lane property to the Nanuet Hebrew Center by the Rennert family. The attorney of record was Wayne Gavioli of Nanuet and for the Nanuet Hebrew Center, President Mollie Friedman and Kenneth Benjamin. That same evening alternative construction options were presented. The third option, a 25,000 square foot building was selected by the members present.

March 9th, 1997, a large sign was erected on the new site facing Little Tor Road proclaiming “NEW HOME OF NANUET HEBREW CENTER.” This sign was designed and constructed by Werner Neuberger who also supervised its erection.

General contractor for the entire project of the new building was headed by Uri Sasson, and Arthur Garelick, d/b/a USA Construction. Clearing of the heavily wooded site along with removal of the Rennert Family house and two barns began mid April 1997.

April 6, 1997, a ground breaking ceremony was held at the new site and participating in the program were President Mollie Friedman, Kenneth Benjamin, our Hebrew School children lead by Principal Hindie Potok, Cantor Martin Konikoff, Rabbi Mark Biller, and local Town and County dignitaries, including Honorable Charles E. Holbrook, Supervisor of the Town of Clarkstown and County Executive Scott E. Vanderhof. Hundreds of congregants, family and friends witnessed the event. A light brunch was served at the Center’s auditorium with remarks from Ken Benjamin, John Lang and Barry Adesnik.

During the summer the foundation was dug and pouring began, with walls going up.

By the end of October, steel for the roof was installed, roadways and curbing around the building was installed.

On a cold wintery day, December 14, 1997, the Cornerstone ceremony was held. Many dignitaries were present along with Rabbi Henry Sosland, representing the Rockland County Board of Rabbis. A reception followed at the Nanuet Synagogue auditorium.

By August 1998, the building was almost completed. A temporary certificate of occupancy was issued by the Building Department so we could move our Torahs to the new synagogue.

Labor Day, September 7th, 1998, our last mincha service was held in the original synagogue. Past Presidents carried the seven (7) Torahs outside and around the building, and then the Torahs, in relay accompanied by Flags, Chuppah and Songs, were carried two and a half (2 & 1/2)miles north on Middletown Road, over the Palisades Parkway overpass to Little Tor Road.

A police escort followed. What a sight to remember! Seven young members placed the seven Torahs into the Oren Kodesh. Rabbi Paul Kurland, assisted by Cantor Martin Konikoff, conducted Maariv service.

First High Holiday services were conducted in the new building with upwards of 600 people attending.

The original building is demolished mid-November and the cornerstone is brought to the new building. The copper container is removed and contents reveal more than expected, including history of the Sisterhood dated 1954.

Because of our new location and facilities many community events become part of our activities. We were proud to host the County American Legion who sponsored the Four Chaplain Service. A Regional Kinnus attended by over 300 youth was held at our new building.

Second and third generation members are now active participants in synagogue affairs and many fourth generation children are enrolled in our school. The planning, the thinking, the hard work of our congregation still continues; our members still make personal sacrifices today, just as members did in our beginning. The high ideals of our founders have been our inspiration and we now this will continue on from generation to generation.

Tue, October 4 2022 9 Tishrei 5783