Is it remarkable that a synagogue in Brooklyn, New York has turned 90 years old? Perhaps to some people this is not much of a feat. There are congregations that are older than that in NYC and other parts of the United States. There are some American shul buildings that are older than that as well. Still, 90 years in the same place with only minor changes and repairs (paint jobs, stained glass window and dome repairs, a new security system and heating revamped, things like that) is something of an achievement.
My congregation, the East Midwood Jewish Center (oft-referred to as “EMJC”) turns 90 this year and we decided to have an anniversary celebration on the 22nd of Kislev, the 14th of December. I was pleased to take part as a choral singer and as a writer of an essay included in the commemorative booklet. My family and I have belonged to EMJC since 1971, when I was 7. Thus it has played a major role in my life, as far as religious services, schooling, milestone events, youth group meetings and other activities.
I could regale you with many stories of my years at EMJC, and here are a few brief anecdotes: the time my younger daughter, a toddler then, wandered off and locked herself in the Men’s Club Party Room, and kept herself busy by ripping up paper plates and strewing them around the floor. The time my dad, as part of the House Committee, inspected a shack on the roof and disturbed a hornet’s nest (he got so many stings but was okay). The time when I was a teenager, volunteering for the annual Israel Bonds Breakfast and our guest speaker was Benjamin Netanyahu, then working for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. (I asked him if he wanted more lox or bagels.) The time when the celebrated pianist Peter Nero played a concert for the congregation, in honor of his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. (His rendition of the “Exodus” movie theme was stellar.)
For our Chanukat HaBayit ceremony, we had choral performances, speeches (some wonderful, some plodding), a slideshow of the restoration of the stained glass windows, and the formal installation of our new spiritual leader, Rabbi Matt Carl. Our rabbi emeritus, Rabbi Alvin Kass, spoke as well, and we also heard audio clips of past hazzanim singing. It was a look back and a look ahead.
What is the significance of the number 90 in Judaism? It does not have the cache of 7, or 5, or 4. However, 90 is represented by the letter Tzadi. And there is the hint of the Tzaddik to this number, by dint of its sound and root. As well, Psalm 90 is an interesting, haunting poem. A famous phrase from it is “teach us to number our days,” “Limnot YaMaynu, Kayn Hodah.” Thus it is fitting for a 90 year old shul to take stock, to rifle through its memories, to think about the past and set goals for its future. A hearty L’Chaim to my shul.