Monsey Memories: The Early Days of Congregation Sons of Israel of Nyack

Monsey Memories: The Early Days of Congregation Sons of Israel of Nyack

Yitzy Fried 

Recently, we profiled Rav Avrohom Lehrman, who served Congregation Bnai Israel of Nyack (the name by which it was known before it was changed to Sons of Israel. This week, we take a look at the founding era of what was then an orthodox congregation. 

The earliest history of what eventually became today’s Congregation Sons of Israel began in March 1870 when 20 families, mainly German immigrants, established the Jewish Society of Nyack. Perhaps befitting a group whose members were mostly in retail businesses, they met and held services in the back of a tailor shop on Main Street, just west of Franklin.

As Nyack grew, so did its Jewish community, and a kahal was incorporated on August 22, 1891, under the name Congregation of Nyack, B’nai Israel. Nine years later, they established a Hebrew school with an initial enrollment of ten students. The congregation rented space, moving from place to place in its early years; they met in members’ homes in the colder months.

Increasingly frustrated by the difficulties of achieving comfort in the rented space, the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society, the precursor of today’s Sisterhood, established a committee to explore the idea of buying a house of worship. In 1919, the congregation adopted a resolution to do so. On March 2, 1920, the congregation paid $100 to Tunis Depew to acquire a lot on the corner of South Broadway and Hudson Avenue. After four years of fundraising, the cornerstone was laid in 1924, and the synagogue building was dedicated on September 13, 1925.

Nyack weathered the Depression relatively well, and its Jewish community remained small but vibrant. Daily minyanim were held at the Hudson Street synagogue, with Hebrew school classes meeting three times a week. Congregation Sons of Israel was adopted in 1936, after an interlude as B’nai Israel, although the cemetery opened that year.

During World War II, Congregation Sons of Israel provided hospitality to Jewish soldiers stationed nearby. An Army truck ferried soldiers from Camp Shanks, a last stopping-off point in the United States, before being shipped to fight overseas, to Nyack for services and Shabbos and holiday dinners in members’ homes. One intrepid family hosted 30 soldiers, in addition to their other family and guests, at a wartime seder.

Nyack—and Rockland County in general—saw incredible population growth in the postwar years, especially after the completion of the Palisades Interstate Parkway and the Tappan Zee Bridge eased the commute to New York City and Westchester. Accordingly, the congregation grew to about 100 families.

A split then occurred in the congregation between those who wanted a more liberal style and those who wished to adhere to more traditional Judaism. But for its first three decades, the shul was united as a stronghold of traditional Judaism in Nyack of yore. 

(Much of the information in this article comes from the synagogue’s website)

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