Saturday, October 27, 2012
New face for old synagogue
From the NY Times:
Twenty years ago, it seemed that Congregation Tifereth Israel in Corona, thought to be the oldest synagogue in Queens, was headed for a date with a wrecking ball. Its Ashkenazi Jewish congregation — whose early members included the teenager who would become Estée Lauder — had dwindled to just a few. The wooden building, coated in 1929 with an unfortunate blanket of stucco, was in disrepair.
But in the late 1990s, a charismatic kosher butcher and rabbi from Central Asia moved to the area and slowly transformed the synagogue into the spiritual home of a community of impoverished Bukharan Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Soon, the rabbi’s wife figured out that in America, there was a way to save such a historic building.
Esther Khaimov, the rabbi’s wife, called the New York Landmarks Conservancy for help and combed through city records to find the building’s original 1911 architectural plans, according to Ann-Isabel Friedman, who guided the project for the conservancy. After years of work, the building was given city landmark status in 2008 and then raised enough state, city and private grants to pay for a $1.6 million exterior renovation.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Khaimov and her husband, Rabbi Amnon Khaimov, helped preside over a ribbon cutting for their restored synagogue. At 5 p.m. Rabbi Khaimov nailed the final nail into a mezuza, the ritual prayer scroll Jews affix to entranceways, on the synagogue’s front door frame. There is still no boiler in the building — that might have to wait until next year — but the restored siding glows sky blue, and the decorative ornament at its gabled parapet, at one point lost to time, is back in gleaming gold.