The Upper West Side neighborhood of Manhattan has been substantially Jewish in makeup for over 100 years. It has been home to several vibrant synagogues, running the gamut of religiosity. There are Orthodox synagogues, such as Shearith Israel, Ohab Zedek, the Jewish Center, Young Israel and others. There are Conservative congregations such as B'nai Jeshurun, Shaare Zedek, Ansche Chesed (on the northwestern edge of the region) and more. There are Reform congregations such as Rodeph Sholom and Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, and even the Reconstructionist center SAJ (Society for the Advancement of Judaism).

Several of the congregations that I mentioned above are among the very oldest congregations not only in New York City but in North American, overall. Shearith Israel, better known as the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, was the first congregation in "the New World." B'nai Jeshurun splintered off from it. Ansche Chesed and Shaare Zedek splintered off from "BJ" as it is commonly called. Ohab Zedek and Rodeph Sholom have roots going back to the 1800s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan,.

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In fact, some other congregations on the Upper West Side have roots in the iconic Lower East Side region of Manhattan-- and others in the more northern neighborhood of Harlem. Thus it may seem strange that there are also "lost synagogues" in the Upper West Side, what with all these Jews and their shuls (as well as kosher restaurants). But yes, there are some. A few congregations resided for a while in the Upper West Side and then moved to the Upper East Side (Shaaray Tefila, Temple Israel among them). A few congregations just died out. A few moved within the area (Congregation Habonim moved westward and their previous building is gone). And soon, Shaare Zedek's 1920s era building will be knocked down. A developer has purchased the site of the shul, and will build a new high rise, giving a floor or two to "SZ" for its use.

I wrote about the controversy surrounding this last year; it is contentious within the neighborhood for a few reasons (community objection to yet another large building; preservationists protesting the loss of this neo-Classical structure; etc) but now it is a given, The congregation will be bidding farewell to the current site and that's that, as they say.

I bring this all up because Wednesday, August 23rd I lead one of my Lost Synagogues walking tours, but this one was somewhat different. I call it a Lost/Active/Endangered synagogues walking tour, because (at least this year) all three categories are represented, So I brought a small group around to see (and visit inside) several Jewish sites.

Each time I give a tour, I see something new and different. This time I saw that the very first site, a former home of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, and most recently a church, is undergoing a massive renovation and addition. We saw scaffolding and windows knocked out, and I could even discern the wooden beams through a window. Apparently the building will be altered so that residential units are being built above the old house of worship base. A novel idea? Hmm.

We ended the tour at Shaare Zedek, and we recognized that this building will soon be gone. The congregation is formally saying goodbye to this grand building in a matter of weeks. But I am still angered by this move, and alarmed that another, former site of Shaare Zedek in Harlem (at West 118th Street) may be endangered as well. There has been a church there for many years, and I think the building is also up for sale. Further, I know that the Shaare Zedek cemetery in Queens, known as Bayside, has been in poor shape for many decades. A man named Anthony, who is not Jewish (but has some Jews in his lineage) has volunteered his time and effort for a number of years to fix up the cemetery, but conditions have been worsening (due to shifting soil, decay, and vandalism) and SZ barely recognizes his efforts. But that is a story for another time,

The Upper West Side, as we saw by walking its blocks, is a neighborhood anchored by many houses of worship (Jewish and Christian), a few significant museums (American Museum of Natural History, New-York Historical Society in particular) and many old townhouses and large, ornate apartment buildings. But it is still experiencing change. Stay tuned.

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