The neighborhood of Canarsie, Brooklyn has never been a glamorous, hip spot. It did have a moderately interesting past as a Native American enclave, and was largely a sleepy farming area later than many other parts of Brooklyn. I recall working at a summer camp in the neighborhood in 1981 and 1982, and I could still hear long-time residents speaking fluent Italian. Much of it had the atmosphere of a sedate upstate village, albeit with an outdoor subway train line.

Since at least the early 1900s there has been a Jewish community here, mostly of Ashkenazic background. The Jewish population grew greatly after World War Two because many Jews moved out of more northern neighborhoods such as Brownsville and East New York, and Canarsie seemed a step  up for them. Levantine and Sephardic Jews also moved in from the New Lots/East New York area. It was considered a pleasant, middle and working class neighborhood but in the 1970s and 1980s there was friction (documented in a few scholarly books) between the Italian and Jewish residents and African-Americans who mostly lived in the region's public housing.

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Now the Jewish community here is considerably smaller but a few synagogues survive (and one has a question mark over its head). One that closed in the 1990s was perhaps the largest, and it was usually known as Kevelson (or Kevelson's). More formerly it was Congregation Talmud Torah Ohev Shalom, and the building was put up in 1951. At some point, however, the building was bought by a Christian group and is now an Evangelical church.

I did not attend this congregation but I have friends who did, and at some point in the late 1980s or very early 1990s, I went to a bar mitzvah party there for the son of a man I knew. I remember the social hall, the way it was set up, and I also remember eating some hors d'oeuvres, and getting some non-alcoholic mocktails. But I did not return to this building again until I was researching "lost synagogues" in Brooklyn. A friend of mine who taught at Canarsie High School, down the block from this synagogue building, told me about the site. Then another friend told me about how she gone here as a child and her grandparents were instrumental in the history of the shul.

Fast forward to March 2016. A few days ago I attended a memorial service for a long-time friend, a non-Jewish man, who died tragically while on vacation outside the United States (he drowned when caught in a rip current). His family members and close friends decided to hold a memorial service for Neil here, at the former Kevelson's.

It was, of course, a sad occasion to be visiting this building. I did get to see a few people I knew back in high school and afterward, and I also learned that Neil was not an only child. His older siblings came around to speak with us and thank us for coming to the service. We reminisced about our recently deceased friend, but I also had the mildly bizarre experience of reflecting upon being in this building, once a shul and once the spot of a bar mitzvah party I attended mostly out of obligation to a family with which I was not close, and now being here for a memorial occasion.

Another person at my table (during the light buffet preceding the service and tribute) mentioned that he too had been to a bar mitzvah here back when it was a synagogue. And the building has a lot of remaining Judaica, inside and out. The front doors have glass etchings representing the 12 Tribes. There are several doors adorned with Jewish stars. The building's cornerstone has the Jewish and secular dates. The announcement board still has the name of the synagogue. A connected building on the Avenue L side has a sign  for the Hebrew school. And there are other mementos.

Should I say this experience was an "only in New York" type of thing? I wonder.

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