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Brooklyn’s Oldest Synagogue Celebrates Model Seder

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Apr 04, 2014 by Tanay Warerkar, Greenpoint News

Rabbi Joshua Fishman and congregants Courtesy Martin Needelman
Rabbi Joshua Fishman and congregants Courtesy Martin Needelman

Brooklyn’s oldest Orthodox and Williamsburg’s last non-Hasidic Orthodox Synagogue, Congregation Beth Jacob Ohev Shalom (CBJOS), will hold its first-ever model Seder this Sunday to mark the upcoming celebration of Passover.

The model Seder is a way for the Rodney Street Synagogue to reintegrate the Jewish community in North Brooklyn and specifically to reach out to the influx of people who have recently moved into the neighborhood, as well as to introduce the Jewish culture, history and traditions to those who might not necessarily be devout practitioners of the faith.

“Increasingly there are a large number of unaffiliated Jews moving into the neighborhood, and they don’t know we exist,” said Marty Needelman, Executive Director of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and a member of the congregation. “It is a way to reach out to a new generation and get them back to Jewish life and a way for them to reconnect with their Jewish heritage.”

CBJOS’ rich cultural heritage dates back to the 19th Century. Beth Jacob was established in 1869 by reform German Jews who migrated to North Brooklyn. The first building to house the synagogue was constructed the following year on Keap Street. Several years later, at the turn of the century, the synagogue merged with Chevra Ansche Sholom, and adopted the title Congregation Beth Jacob Ansche Sholom along with the construction of a new building on South 3rd Street.

In the 1950s the synagogue faced a major crisis during the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The building in which it was housed had to be demolished and expropriated. But the synagogue pulled through, combining with another synagogue in a similar situation to create a new building in 1957 on Rodney Street, where the synagogue continues to flourish today.

At Sunday’s model Seder, festivities will include free food and live music, and the organizers will regale attendees with numerous stories about the tradition of Passover and about Jewish history and culture. In addition the synagogue received gifts through donations, and these will be shared amongst people who attend, to create an authentic festive atmosphere.

“This is not an event where we are trying to collect donations or anything like that,” said Zevie Gelar, a congregant and one of the organizers of the event. “It’s a way to celebrate our culture and be proud of who we are, and a way for some of the new members of the community to feel welcomed when they enter the shul, to feel like they’re part of a family.”

The event also marks a special occasion for the synagogue as it is the last year for its Rabbi, Joshua Fishman, who has been serving the community and the synagogue since 1971. Sunday’s celebration looks to infuse more Jewish pride and increased participation at the synagogue.