New York, Nu York: Photos on the Wall

For the past several years, the weeks leading up to the Yom Tovim, the High Holidays, have been a special musical prep time for me and a handful of my fellow congregants. Along with our shul's hazzan, this small of group of singers and I attend rehearsals to get ready for the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services. Originally we were an octet with two singers per part (Bass Tenor Alto Soprano), although our numbers actually hit an even dozen one year. But one tenor only lasted one year, one bass moved to another part of New York State, one Alto passed away, and one Soprano is doing a different gig. Thus we are "Back to Eight."
We have practiced in various rooms in our synagogue, the East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn, New York. But the room we have used most often is the Board of Trustees room, a room on the top floor, dominated by a huge, heavy wooden table. On one wall of this lengthy room is an unusual Sh'ma Yisroel carving, made of wood. It seems to be a mid-20th century creation. Another wall has windows, and the back wall is actually an accordion curtain that can be opened to the next room, which is the hazzan's office. And on the front wall is a collection of photographic portraits of all the presidents of our congregation, since our start 90-plus years ago.
But this past week when we sat down for our Octet singing rehearsal, I noticed a new-old piece hanging on the wall. It was a photo montage of presidents of Congregation Shaare Torah, covering the years 1900 to 1979. The black-and-white photos were all of men, and I think I recognized one or two of their faces.
The photo montage is not new, and it reflects a congregation that is gone. However, it is new to our walls. Someone in our congregation found it and hung it up on the wall. And this artifact is particularly interesting to me for a few reasons. First, I am "the Lost Synagogues Lady," the person behind the Lost Synagogues of New York City books, tours and Facebook page. Second, my family and I belonged to Shaare Torah in the 1960s, before we moved and joined the East Midwood Jewish Center.
The photo montage ended up with us, logically, because Shaare Torah merged with East Midwood (although some members opted instead for another area synagogue). But it has only recently appeared on our wall. So it is of historical interest to me, and perhaps a few other congregants older than I.
I found my gaze drifting to the Shaare Torah photo montage many times during our Octet rehearsal. I just couldn't help but look at it. We were practicing our singing parts, most of which take place during the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur Mussaf services, as well as the Kol Nidre service. These songs usher in my mood and attitude for the New Year, and I have deeply enjoyed singing and being involved with the Octet. In fact, my participation has made the High Holidays much more interesting and moving for me, and I hope for others at "EMJC" as well.
But this new-old photo montage kept grabbing at my attention. And there is something rather bittersweet about this set of black-and-white photos. They represent a Jewish congregation that is more or less gone. The last home of Shaare Torah, built in the early 1950s, is now home to a Baptist Church. (The earlier home was torn down and there is now a public elementary school in its place.) True, we have some of their books, siddurim and such. We have their memorial plaques. There are a few people, such as myself, who belonged to Shaare Torah. But for the most part the items and names and history of Shaare Torah constitute a footnote.
Our lives have a few big events and important themes; they also have plenty of footnotes. That is something to think about and evaluate as we head into the new year of 5777.