Temple Israel of the City of New York

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Temple Israel
Temple Israel of the city of New York jeh.jpg
Basic information
Location 112 East 75th Street,
Manhattan, New York,
 United States
Geographic coordinates 40°46′21″N 73°57′42″W / 40.7725°N 73.9618°W / 40.7725; -73.9618Coordinates: 40°46′21″N 73°57′42″W / 40.7725°N 73.9618°W / 40.7725; -73.9618
Affiliation Reform Judaism
Country United States of America
Status Active
Leadership Senior Rabbi: David J. Gelfand
Director of Lifelong Learning: Melissa Buyer
Assistant Rabbi: Jim Stoloff
Cantor: Irena Altshul
Cantor Emeritus: Robert P. Abelson[1][2]
Website templeisraelnyc.org
Architectural description
Architect(s) Peter Claman
(Schuman & Lichtenstein)[3]
Architectural style Brutalist[3]
Groundbreaking 1964[3]
Completed 1967[3]

Temple Israel (formally Temple Israel of the City of New York) is a Reform congregation in Manhattan. It was incorporated in 1873[4] by German Jews.[5]

It purchased its first synagogue building Fifth Avenue and 125th Street in 1887, constructed its own at 201 Lenox Avenue and 120th Street in 1907,[6] and constructed another at 210 West 91st Street in 1920.[3] Its current Brutalist style building, at 112 East 75th Street on the Upper East Side, was completed in 1967.[3]

Since its founding, Temple Israel has been served by only five senior rabbis: Maurice Harris (1882–1930), William Rosenblum (1930–1963), Martin Zion (1963–1991), Judith Lewis (1991–2006), and David Gelfand (2006–). As of 2015, its senior rabbi is Gelfand, and its cantor is Irena Altshul.[5]

Early history[edit]

Temple Israel was incorporated in 1873[4] as Yod b'Yod ("Hand in Hand") congregation[3][6] by German Jews.[5] An early trustee was Cyrus L. Sulzberger, father of New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger.[3] The members were typically shopkeepers, traditionally observant, and first worshiped above a printing shop on East 125th Street in Harlem.[6] They soon established a Hebrew school called "Gates of Learning" for the 45 children of the congregation.[6] The congregation rented a larger space on 124th Street in 1874, and in 1876 leased a former church on 116th Street,[6] between First Avenue and Second Avenue.[5] In 1880, the congregation purchased the building on 116th Street.[6]

Temple Israel was initially lay-led, but in 1882 appointed Maurice Harris as the congregation's rabbi; at the time, he was still a student at Columbia College, Columbia University, and at Emanu-El Theological Seminary.[5][6] In 1884, his installation was made official.[6]

First buildings[edit]

In 1887, the congregation purchased a building at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street, and the following year re-dedicated it as their synagogue.[6] Designed by John W. Welch, the building had been formerly owned by the Holy Trinity Church, and was constructed in 1869–1870.[3] In 1888 the congregation also re-organized, changing its name to Temple Israel of Harlem.[3][6] In 1898, the congregation celebrated its 25-year anniversary and 10 years in its current home.

The congregation constructed its own synagogue building at 201 Lenox Avenue, at 120th Street, in 1907.[3][6] The limestone[5] building was not designed in the typical Moorish Revival style of other synagogues of the time; the designer, Arnold Brunner, argued that "synagogues have no traditional lines of architectural expression".[7] According to David W. Dunlap, the building "looks like a Roman temple until you notice the Stars of David in the column capitals, fanlights, and spandrel panels",[7] and "may rank as the single best Neoclassical synagogue in Manhattan".[3] Temple Israel joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism) in 1909,[6] and a few years later[8] merged with Shaarey Borocho (or Shaaray Beracha), a synagogue of Alsatian Jews.[3][6]

Moves to West 91st Street and East 75th Street[edit]

In 1920, the members moved to a new Neoclassical building at 210 West 91st Street, designed by William Tachau;[3] the old building on Lenox Avenue was sold to the Seventh-Day Adventist Temple, which in turn sold it in 1925 to the Mount Olivet Baptist Church.[7] Temple Israel elected its first woman trustee in 1921,[5] dedicated its new building in 1922, and in 1924 officially changed its name to Temple Israel of the City of New York.[6] By 1929, membership exceeded 950.[6]

William Franklin Rosenblum succeeded Harris as Temple Israel's second rabbi in 1930, and Harris died just a few months later that year.[5][6] The congregation was active during the Great Depression, and supported Jewish education programs for poor children of the neighborhood.[6] Temple Israel actively supported the war effort during World War II,[6] and afterward Rosenblum opposed the creation of Israel.[5]

Rosenblum retired in 1963, and Martin Zion succeeded him that year as Temple Israel's third rabbi.[9] At the time, the congregation's trustees had decided to relocate the synagogue from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side of Manhattan,[5] and in 1964 began construction of a new building at Temple Israel's current location, 112 East 75th Street.[3] Designed by architect Peter Claman of Schuman & Lichtenstein, the Brutalist structure was completed in 1967. The previous building on West 91st Street was sold to the Young Israel of the West Side congregation, who still occupy it.[3]

Events since 1980[edit]

Robert Abelson became leader of the congregation's music program in 1980.[5] In 1985, Judith Lewis became Temple Israel's Director of Education, and in 1991 she succeeded Zion as the synagogue's fourth senior rabbi. By 1995, membership was over four hundred families.[9]

David Gelfand succeeded Lewis, becoming Temple Israel's fifth Senior Rabbi in 2006.[5] That same year Alan Londy joined the synagogue as Rabbi Educator.[10] Sheila Nesis,[11] a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, served as Assistant Cantor from 2007 - 2012 before relocating to Phoenix, AZ. Jim Stoloff joined the clergy as Assistant Rabbi in 2013. As of 2015, the Senior Rabbi is Rabbi David Gelfand, the Director of Lifelong Learning is Rabbi Melissa Buyer, the Assistant Rabbi is Rabbi Jim Stoloff, the Cantor is Irena Altshul, and the Cantor Emeritus is Robert P. Abelson.[5]

See also[edit]



  • For more on Temple Israel during Willam Rosenblum's tenure as rabbi (1930–1963), see his rabbinical career materials in the William F. Rosenblum Papers.; P-327; American Jewish Historical Society, Boston, MA and New York, NY.