Stephen Wise Free Synagogue
In 1905, Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise then serving a congregation in Portland, Oregon, was under consideration as Rabbi of Temple Emanu–El in New York City, but withdrew his name after learning that his sermons would be reviewed in advance by the synagogue's board of trustees. In January 1906, The New York Times published a letter from Rabbi Wise that stated that the demands placed on him raised the "question whether the pulpit shall be free or whether the pulpit shall not be free, and, by reason of its loss of freedom, reft of its power for good." The Times noted that Wise planned to head to New York to "organize and lead an independent Jewish religious movement."
Within months of this letter, Rabbi Wise started work toward a "free synagogue" holding services at the Hudson Theater on West 47th Street and on the Lower East Side. At a meeting on April 15, 1907, Henry Morgenthau, Sr. told the more than hundred assembled at the Hotel Savoy that "The Free Synagogue is to be free and democratic in its organization; it is to be pewless and dueless."
In 1910, the congregation's 500 members celebrated Rosh Hashanah at Carnegie Hall, and a number of brownstones were purchased on West 68th Street in 1911 as the site of a permanent home for the synagogue. Branches of the Free Synagogue were started in the Bronx, Washington Heights, Manhattan, Flushing, Queens, Westchester County, New York and Newark, New Jersey in the period from 1914 to 1920.
Rabbi Wise founded the congregation in 1907 as the "Free Synagogue" and served as its religious leader until his death on April 19, 1949. Wise designated Rabbi Edward E. Klein as his successor. At a meeting of the congregation in May 1949, members voted unanimously to incorporate Rabbi Wise's name into the formal name of the congregation.
Rabbi Balfour Brickner led the congregation from 1980 to 1992. During his leadership Brickner used the pulpit to speak out against US policies in Central America and with the South African Apartheid regime, and spoke out for the rights of Palestinians. He brought a more participatory service and made himself more accessible to members of the congregation. Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, former Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America/World Union for Progressive Judaism, North America, became senior rabbi in 2004.
The synagogue created the Westchester Hills Cemetery of the Free Synagogue in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York in 1919 when it acquired the northern portion of the non–sectarian Mount Hope Cemetery, which had been created in the 19th century. There are some 1,500 individual grave sites, a Community Mausoleum with 138 crypts, and other mausoleums for individuals and families.
Westchester Hills is the interment site of John Garfield, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Judy Holiday, Billy Rose, Lee Strasberg, David Susskind, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and of members of the Barricini, Guggenheim, Tisch, and Millstein families.
- Staff. "REV. DR. WISE SURPRISES EMANU-EL TRUSTEES; Speaks of a Call Which They Flatly Deny. NO ACTION, OFFICERS SAY Portland Rabbi Tells His Congregation That He Stipulated for Perfect Freedom in the Pulpit.", The New York Times, January 7, 1906. Accessed October 18, 2008.
- Heritage, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. Accessed October 18, 2008.
- Dunlap, David W. "From Abyssinian to Zion", p. 265. Accessed October 18, 2008.
- Staff. "Synagogue Is Renamed To Honor Rabbi S. S. Wise", The New York Times, May 13, 1949. Accessed October 18, 2008.
- Saxon, Wolfgang. "Balfour Brickner, Activist Reform Rabbi, Dies at 78", The New York Times, September 1, 2005. Accessed October 18, 2008.
- "Our Clergy: Ammiel Hirsch, Senior Rabbi". Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- Cemetery, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. Accessed October 18, 2008.