Congregation Shaari Israel, Brooklyn, NY

  • Dates: 1929-1991
  • Size: 4.1 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 6 (2 record cartons; 4 document cases)
  • Languages:
    • English
    • Yiddish
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Library. Fragile or oversized photographs from this collection are in the fragile photos box, the rolled photos box, and the oversized photos boxes. Check the photograph database for exact locations of each.
  • Restrictions: Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.
  • Gift Of: Abraham Feldbin
  • Date: 1996

JSF, 7/7/97

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way on the left side of each folder: Name of Collection, box #/folder#, as in Ben Zion Bokser Papers, 4/22. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Historical Note

 [see caption]
A sign heralds Shaari Israel Congregation's new building less than two weeks before the crash of the stock market in 1929.

Congregation Shaari Israel was founded in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, in May, 1929. In August of that year - just two months before the stock market crash - the congregation issued one thousand bonds at ten dollars each to raise funds to rent a temporary building. For approximately two years, the congregation met in storefronts. In September, 1930 the cornerstone was laid for a synagogue building. The building was funded with donations of approximately $350 from each member. Shaari Israel's first synagogue building was completed and dedicated in May, 1931.

Shaari Israel had four rabbis over the course of its first five years. Then, Bernard Stolper held the pulpit from 1935 to 1945. Rabbi Stolper was followed by Harold Englander, who served for two years before moving to Israel in 1949. He was succeeded by Abraham I. Feldbin who served until 1952, when Rabbi Seymour Fenichel took over the pulpit. Rabbi Fenichel served until 1969 when Rabbi Feldbin returned and served until the synagogue's demise in 1991.

In 1932 Congregation Shaari Israel joined the United Synagogue of America and remained a member for the remainder of its existence. The synagogue was active in the Zionist movement, holding annual United Jewish Appeal fundraising events and Israel Bonds campaigns. In addition, each year the synagogue sponsored the planting of several thousand trees in Israel through the Jewish National Fund.

Synagogue membership reached a height in 1961; Talmud Torah registration was almost 225. At that auspicious moment, money was raised for an addition to the existing building in order to accommodate the growing congregation. In 1963 a ground-breaking ceremony was held.

Despite the preparations, the new building was never completed. The funds raised were insufficient and the community of Conservative Jews in East Flatbush began to dwindle. Instead of constructing a new building, the congregation enhanced its old one with air-conditioning and a new ballroom. The ballroom was frequently rented out and the income it produced kept the synagogue alive.

On June 7, 1989 Rabbi Feldbin sent the first in a series of letters to the entire synagogue membership documenting the closing of the synagogue. He also announced the congregation's intention to assist in the founding of a Masorti synagogue in Jerusalem. The process was completed in 1991 when the building was finally sold. Shaari Israel sent its memorial tablets to its "sister" synagogue in Jerusalem where they hang today.

Collection Description

The records of Shaari Israel consist of congregational and board minutes, correspondence, financial records, lists of congregants, publications, records of synagogue organizations, building construction records, and photographs documenting the life of Congregation Shaari Israel from its inception in 1929 until its demise in 1991. The photographs constitute one of the strengths of the collection, and include scenes of the temporary quarters used by the synagogue before it had its own building; scenes of the building site and groundbreaking; and pictures of congregants, including a view of a New Years Eve party in 1937 with attendees in funny hats and false moustaches. Some of these photographs are fragile and have been moved to special Ratner Center photograph boxes separate from this collection.

Minutes document routine matters, including construction of the synagogue building, finances, High Holiday services, and the synagogue's religious school, or Talmud Torah. The correspondence consists of circular letters to congregants and letters documenting routine matters. Of note is a postcard to be sent to congregants who had been lax in their attendance. It reads (in part): "We were awfully blue when we did not see you among all the other lovely people at the synagogue last Friday night. This was the second Friday evening that you were absent and we were hard pressed to make up a plausible excuse to satisfy the many who asked about you."

There is additional correspondence in the group of Rabbi Abraham Feldbin's papers at the beginning of the collection. Of interest here is the series of letters Rabbi Feldbin wrote to congregants about the closing of the synagogue. He also writes of the transfer of the synagogue's assets to Moreshet Avraham, a Masorti congregation in Israel.

Minutes of Shaari Israel's sisterhood mainly discuss its fundraising events on behalf of the synagogue. These included a treasure hunt/fashion show, an adult education program, and a great artist series. Included are flyers, invitations, programs, and schedules from these activities. Bookplates, circular letters and stationery are also included. The sisterhood's annual journals consist largely of advertisements, yet they also include messages from the rabbi and president and brief commentaries about the events of the previous year.

Before every meeting of the sisterhood a portion read from the Bible was always read, and this is noted in the minutes.

Other synagogue organizations documented in the collection include the junior congregation (represented only by a felt patch with the junior congregation's emblem); the Senior Social League; and the Men's Club (represented only by financial reports, 1933-1939). The synagogue's Talmud Torah (religious school) is only sparsely documented. Minutes and bulletins provide some information; some of the correspondence (box 1, folder 7) is to parents of school children; and some of the financial reports are printed on the backs of Talmud Torah circular letters (box 1, folder 10).

The Senior Social League, founded in 1956, held monthly meetings and raised funds for the synagogue. It put on an annual variety show, held a bingo game, and ran Jewish cultural events, square-dances, New Year's Eve parties and game nights. Minutes, a constitution, and announcements and schedules of the League's events are included. A panoramic photograph of congregants at the synagogue's New Year's Eve party for 1937 is included. A second copy of this photograph (P4060) is in the Ratner Center's Rolled Photograph Box, and a copy print (P4083) has been made.

Synagogue publications included here consist of bulletins, 1945-1990; souvenir journals, 1948-1981; several copies of a golden anniversary celebration journal, May 4, 1985; and books of remembrance, 1977-1990.

The books of remembrance contain lists of names to be remembered in memorial services. The golden anniversary celebration journal documents an event for couples celebrating their fiftieth (or greater) anniversaries.

Material documenting the construction of the synagogue's original building is sparse, consisting only of bonds, bond record books, and photographs and programs from the building's cornerstone laying ceremony in 1930. A photograph of the excavation site, 1929, is included. These photographs are fragile and have been moved to the Ratner Center Fragile Photographs box.

Material documenting the construction of the proposed new building (which was never built) consist of bids, contracts, specifications, blue-prints and pictures of the groundbreaking ceremony.

The synagogue history consists of typed reminiscences by congregants and provides a broad picture of the ongoing activities of the congregation. Photographs consist largely of shots of synagogue members at various events. Events pictured include: the congregation's trip to Israel; donation of an ambulance to The Red Magen David; the New Year's Eve party described above; and several ceremonies held at the synagogue.

Box List

Box  Folder(s)  Description
1 1 I. Rabbi Abraham Feldbin, 1947-1991
  II. Administrative Records
  Board of Trustees:
 2 Minutes, 1972-1978
 3 Lists of trustees and other officers, 1978-1988, n.d.
  Congregational Meeting Minutes:
 4 1931-1933
 5 1972-1978
 6 Constitution and By-laws, 1943; Amended, 1968
 7 Correspondence, 1932-1979
  Financial Records:
 8 Account books, 1986-1991
 9 Bank books, 1970-1985
 10 Financial reports- Synagogue, 1930-1956; Men's Club, 1933-1939
 11 Remembrance Book receipts, n.d. (post 1960s)
 vols 1-4 Receipt books, Oct. 1983 - Nov. 1985
 vols 5-6 Receipt books, Nov. 1985 - Oct. 1986
2 unfoldered volume Golden Book
  Membership Lists/Dues Records, 1947-1980:
 1-5 Alphabetical (unbound)
 unfoldered volume Alphabetical (bound)
  III. Buildings
  Original Building, 1929-1930:
 6 Bonds; bond book; cornerstone laying program and certificate. Photographs of excavation, 1929, and cornerstone laying, 1930, are in the Ratner Center fragile photographs box.
  New Building, 1963:
 7 Bids from contractors
 8 Architect's contracts
 9 Blueprints of new building
 10 Ground-breaking ceremony
 11 Alteration and addition specifications
  IV. Synagogue Organizations
 12 Choral Group
  Junior Congregation:
 13 Felt patch with Junior Congregation emblem
 14 Constitution and by-laws
 15 Events, 1970-1981
 16-17 Journals, 1929-1936
 18 Lists of members and board members, 1934-1989
 19 Minutes, 1964-1969
3 1 Minutes, 1970-1975
(See also: box 1, folder 3, for a program of the installation of officers and trustees of the congregation and sisterhood, 1952)
  Senior Social League:
 2 Constitution, 1959, n.d.; bank documents, 1980; n.d.
 3 Events and officers, 1978-1989
 4-8 Minutes, 1957-1990
  V. Publications
 9 Sept 1945 - June 1947
4 1-4 Sept 1959 - July 1976
5 1-3 Sept 1979 - June 1990
  Souvenir Journals:
 4 1948-1952
 5 1955, 1957
6 1-3 1959, 1979, 1981
 4 Golden Anniversary Celebration Journal, May 4, 1985
 5 Books of Remembrance, 1977-1990
  VI. Clippings, Photographs, Synagogue History
 6 Clippings, 1973-1985
 7 Photographs, 1929-1979
 8 Synagogue History
  VII. Other Activities
 9 American Zionist Meeting, March 1948
 10 Ambulance
 11 Annual Jewish National Fund Breakfast, 1979
 12 Book Plates
 13 Procedure for Being Called Up to the Torah