Williamsburg, Brooklyn. One of the original towns that was incorporated into Brooklyn. Occasionally spelled with an "h" at the end. Nowadays it is known for being a hipster magnet; lots of chic shops and eateries, tourists from Europe and Japan parading around, lots of new apartment buildings being built with luxurious amenities.

Williamsburg is also known for a sizable Puerto Rican-American community. And it is also known for its Hasidic Jewish community, predominantly Satmar.



I go to Williamsburg at least once a month, because my family and I will got out for a meal here, or we will shop at Rough Trade Records, imported from England. (My teenaged daughters love going there.) In the warmer weather we also go to the two big parks there, East River State Park and McCarren Park. (McCarren has the rebuilt swimming pool!) Thus this neighborhood has a split personality, big-time.


Sunday, March 11th I led a walking tour of former synagogues in Williamsburg and the upper part of the next neighborhood over, Bed-Stuy (formerly Bedford-Stuyvesant). We saw several "lost synagogues" and even went inside a few. For me it was fascinating as you know, because I am the "lost synagogues lady," and this time I went inside the sanctuaries of four sites for the very first time.  And all four of these buildings are now used as churches: one is African-American Baptist, the other three are mostly Latino with a few other congregants, In each case, parishioners and clergy were very happy to speak with us about the buildings and what they knew about their Jewish pasts.

In one, on Leonard Street, we took note of two memorial plaques left by the Jewish congregation, as well as lighting fixtures with Jewish stars on them, in the main sanctuary. In one on Scholes Street, there is an actual mikvah remaining in the basement, which is now used as a baptismal font. In another former synagogue on Moore Street, the gate is original to the synagogue, and on Sumner Street (now known as Marcus Garvey Boulevard) there are remaining frosted-glass panels on a few doors that open into the sanctuary.

It is still fascinating to me that there is a ghostly Jewish presence at these buildings. People are confused as to why there are "lost synagogues" in Williamsburg, but there are. These buildings are not in the section of the neighborhood where the Satmar live, and these congregations (non-Satmar) died out because the congregants moved out by the 1960s and 1970s. They moved elsewhere. In one case, however (Leonard Street) there had been a Jewish school or group there but it was sold later, in the 1990s. 

For most people who flock to Williamsburg to check out trendy restaurants and stores, these "lost synagogues" are completely off their radar. But for me, and Jews interested in their religious past, there is a lot to be learned. Oh, and there is a lost synagogue on Ainslie Street, which used to be the heart of the Italian-American community of Wiliiamsburg, It has largely disappeared, except for a few restaurants and a bakery.

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