Friday, January 9, 2009

Flushing Free Synagogue still holding on

Rabbi Weisser is the uncommon leader of an uncommon place, a soft-spoken man from Nebraska who has tangled with the Ku Klux Klan and is now trying to revitalize a small synagogue in the bustling heart of Queens.

The Free Synagogue, the oldest Reform Judaism synagogue in the borough, is a symbol of Flushing’s nearly forgotten past, when the area around Main Street was lined not with Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants and supermarkets, but with Jewish grocers, tailors and butcher shops.

Signs of that old neighborhood have all but disappeared. In the 1980s, Flushing’s Jewish population began steadily falling, making way for waves of immigrants who transformed the neighborhood into one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. Its last kosher delicatessen, Flushing Delight, on Union Street, shut its doors in 1995.

The Free Synagogue, which decades ago had several hundred members, now has only about 100. Its religious school closed a few years ago.

Yet the synagogue has held on, surviving for 91 years with a loyal core of longtime supporters. Many are elderly men and women, who come from around Queens to sing and pray beneath the stained-glass windows of the domed sanctuary.

Lessons on Love, From a Rabbi Who Knows Hate and Forgiveness

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