I have lived my whole life in Brooklyn, New York and have seen much more than the average person residing here. My parents were also lifelong Brooklynites, and we all had a great interest in our home borough. My husband was born in Queens, adjacent to Brooklyn, and he is a history buff who is fascinated by various aspects of "Kings County" (another official name for Brooklyn).

But I would never say that I know everything about Brooklyn. Nor would I say I have seen everything in Brooklyn. In fact, I am irked by people (especially those who have only lived here for a few years) who act as if they know so much about this most populous part of New York City.

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Among the places I had not been in Brooklyn was the south-eastern neighborhood of Sea Gate. Sea Gate is west of the fabled, famous Coney Island. It is a gated community and I don't think I have known anyone who lived there, or had no reason to venture into it. But I had always been a bit curious about it. If you drive by its eastern or northern edges, you can see that the housing stock runs the gamut from new and luxurious, to smaller and plainer. It is almost completely residential although there are a few houses of worship and a beach club.


Sadly I finally had a reason to enter Sea Gate. During Passover a fire broke out at the oldest synagogue in the community, Kneses Israel, and now it is in need of major repairs. I thought it would be interesting to document the condition of the building, even if only from the outside, for my Facebook page "The Lost Synagogues of New York City and New Jersey." I am not considering Kneses Israel to be a "lost synagogue," a building no longer housing a Jewish congregation, but occasionally I document related topics on this page. Similarly, when the Upper East Side, Manhattan synagogue Kehillat Jeshurun endured a major fire a few years ago, I took photos of it shortly after the inferno, and wrote about it briefly for my book The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013). Happily, "KJ" has reopened after renovation, and hopefully "KI" in Sea Gate will also be repaired in a speedy fashion.

I got in contact with the rebbetzin of Kneses Israel and she told me I could photograph from the outside. She had to put my name in at the front gate, or otherwise I would not be able to gain entry into Sea Gate. I drove in on a gray Monday morning, and while I knew I had a sad mission, to document the damage of this building, I was also interested, after all these years in Brooklyn, finally to gain entry into this somewhat cloistered district.

I drove over to the shul and saw that the main area of damage was the roof, which had a temporary tarp stretched over it. There were a few piles of damaged and charred things from the interior. And there was an unmistakable burnt smell in the air. In fact, this brought to mind my trip over a year ago to New Brunswick, New Jersey, to document the gutted building that had housed Poile Zedek. Sadly, that building was so vastly damaged. Kneses Israel can be salvaged but it will take time and money.
For now the Sea Gate congregation is meeting in another space, on Lyme Avenue, according to a flier affixed to their entrance.

I took digital photos of the synagogue, as well as black-and-white film snaps. As I was about to start my car another car pulled up beside me. It was the rabbi and rebbetzin, who had found out that I had stopped by to take pictures. I thanked them for giving me the opportunity to document their synagogue in its time of crisis, and I do hope their building will be remade well, and their congregation will weather this storm and come out with strength.

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