Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Author Michael J. Weinstein Honors 180 Orthodox Synagogues

By Michael Perlman

Author Michael J. Weinstein presenting "Ten Times Chai" at Rego Park Jewish Center, Photo by Michael Perlman
“This book is dedicated to the memory of the more than six million victims of the Holocaust, as well as the survivors – particularly the special few whom I had the honor and privilege of meeting on my journey,” states 54-year-old Syosset resident and author Michael J. Weinstein in the opening of his recently published book, “Ten Times Chai – 180 Orthodox Synagogues of New York City.” On June 10, guests including Holocaust survivors at his book talk and signing at Rego Park Jewish Center felt very inspired and grateful, and engaged with questions, and now he hopes to continue spreading the light by hosting more events. Weinstein, who has 25 years of experience as a stockbroker, has proven that “emunah” (faith), spirit, and passion enabled him to become an author. 

The number 613 signifies the quantity of “mitzvot,” commandments in the Torah presented to Moses and the Jewish people by Hashem. “Chai” represents life, which is assigned a numerical value of 18. Weinstein stated, “These very special places deserve the merit of ‘ten times chai.’”

Weinstein’s work features 613 large and insightful original photos capturing wide-angle views of existing classical to modern sanctuaries with close-ups of the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark), Judaica, stained glass windows, and decorative architectural details. Captions offer a vision of their sense of place, with facts including their address, founding, a site’s naming, country of origin, and designation as a NYC Landmark or placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Weinstein explained, “I wanted to do a book that would give people a window into Orthodox Judaism. What does it look like from the balcony? Why is there a separation between men and women?”

His goal was also to “see each synagogue up close and personal, rather than read about its history or see photos of the past.” Although there are many more Orthodox synagogues, five chapters offer a glimpse of 5 synagogues in the Bronx, 100 synagogues in Brooklyn, 35 synagogues in Manhattan, 35 synagogues in Queens, and 5 synagogues in Staten Island.

Locally, some featured sites are Queens Jewish Center, Jewish Community Center of Queens, Havurat Yisrael, Machane Chodosh, Sephardic Jewish Congregation, and the landmarked Congregation Tifereth Israel of Corona (1911). Weinstein pinpointed changing demographics. He explained, “One of the oldest synagogues in Queens is in Corona, a community which now has lots of people from countries including Peru, Columbia, Mexico, and Ecuador. The synagogue is run by a Bukharian rabbi. Estée Lauder (Josephine Esther Mentzer) and her family were Hungarian, and around the turn of the last century, there were Jewish people from Hungary that lived here. She davened at this synagogue.” Additionally, he pointed out that the Bronx and Harlem once offered many synagogues. 

Holocaust survivors among congregants with Author Michael J Weinstein, Photo by Michael Perlman
Weinstein’s parents were from Brooklyn, his grandparents lived on the Lower East Side, and his great-grandparents descended from Russia. Years later, his parents relocated to Briarwood, where he was born. As for a connection to Rego Park, his father worked for The LeFrak Organization for over 25 years. He was raised attending the Jericho Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue, and over time, decided to grow religiously. “I went to Israel in 2010 for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and then wanted to be kosher, increase my level of understanding, and see where I am from and where my great-grandparents were from. I traced my roots to a town called Pinsk in Russia.”

A parallel exists between his family’s history and many others. He said, “People left areas like Russia because of religious persecution in the 1880s and 1890s, where people were getting killed, beat up, and were not allowed to practice. They immigrated to the Lower East Side, where in the early 1900s, there were hundreds of thousands of Jewish people. Over the years, it also changed, and they began to move to different boroughs.” Weinstein bears homage to religious freedom in America, where Jewish people immigrated since 1654 from over thirty countries.

Upon learning more about his past, Weinstein’s goal was to “give back.” He consulted with what he humorously called “Rabbi Google,” and searched the terms “mitzvah” (good deed) and “Brooklyn,” with his lineage in mind, and came across the popular figure, “Mitzvah Man.” “He too knew there’s more to life than just studying and writing checks, and he physically wanted to help people,” said Weinstein.

Unique finds often came about. “Many synagogues in Brooklyn, particularly in the Hassidic areas of Borough Park and Williamsburg, are named after the towns that people came from.” He added, “I went to all of these synagogues and thought, ‘I wonder if anybody ever did a book?’” He discovered books on synagogues that became churches, as well as synagogues in communities where the Jewish population greatly declined. In turn, Weinstein would have the makings of the first book of its kind citywide.

Ruth Loewenstein, a Holocaust survivor & Rego Park Jewish Center Chair with Author Michael J Weinstein, Photo by Michael Perlman
Recalling his moving experiences, he said, “I met Holocaust survivors who lost their entire family. For example, they may have been one of nine.” He spoke with 24 survivors in Brooklyn. “Some shared stories that I’ll never forget. On my fifth visit with Frances Irwin of Midwood, Brooklyn, she told me ‘blueberries saved my life.’ She hid in the forest for over two years and survived on blueberries. She was caught and sent to Auschwitz and ultimately survived.” He continued, “Many synagogues in Rego Park and Forest Hills were founded during or after the Holocaust (serving as a beacon of hope and perseverance), whereas in Brooklyn, many were founded before, during, or after the Holocaust.”

For example, Congregation Machane Chodosh, which means “new camp or new beginning,” was founded in 1939 on 108th Street. Queens Jewish Center, also on 108th Street, was founded in 1943, and erected by The LeFrak Organization in 1955. The groundbreaking in 1953 was attended by Harry LeFrak, founder of the organization.

Weinstein said, “I am proud to be a New Yorker and proud of these synagogues. If you look at these photos, you will see that some rival any synagogue in the world and it’s something to be proud of, even in Queens. They are beautiful places.”

Weinstein’s book is available on Amazon or at a discounted price for 3 or more copies, with free delivery anywhere in Queens. For more information, email 

An alternate version of this feature has been published in the Forest Hills Times:

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