gallin Remembrance of Synagogues Past - The Lost Civilization of the Jewish South Bronx


Synagogues and Demographics

In 1940, there were approximately 260 registered tax-exempt synagogues and at least twice as many unregistered synagogues in the South Bronx. (30) And more than 360,000 Jews lived in the South Bronx.(10) By 2007 there was one active community synagogue and, the author estimates, fewer than 2,500 Jews in the South Bronx. (Numbers in parenthesis after a statement denote a bibliographical reference and letters after a statement denote a footnote. Footnotes are found after the text in this section and the bibliography is found at the end of the book.)

The Jews moved to the northern sections of the Bronx and to the suburbs. This study will examine what happened to the synagogues when the Jews left (The author uses the word synagogue to include all Jewish institutions.) and give an accounting of those they established in the North Bronx.

For the purposes of this book, the South Bronx constitutes the area south of Fordham Road bounded on the west by the Harlem River, on the east by the Bronx River and on the south by the East River. It includes the areas commonly known as the South Bronx, Hunts Point, the West Bronx and Morrisania. (10)

A comparison of Jewish population figures for 1930, 1940 (10) and 1981 (22) are as follows (the statistics for 2002 are estimated):

1930 1940 1981 1991
South Bronx 38,200 16,800 1,350 1,600
Hunts Point 30,200 20,700 30 0
West Bronx 125,000 142,900 2,250 400
Morrisania 170,000 123,800 2,700 600
Total 363,000 304,200 6,330 2,600
The population survey in 1981 used a different methodology from the one used in 2002 (22).

The Jewish Community Study of New York: 2002 (44) estimates there are 45,000 Jews living in the Bronx. The vast majority of these Jews live north of Fordham Road and east of the Bronx River. This book's author estimates that there are fewer than 2,500 Jews now living south of Fordham Road between the Harlem and the Bronx Rivers. This is less than 1% of the Jewish population that lived in the area in 1930.

Active Synagogues in the South Bronx

There are actually three surviving synagogues in the South Bronx that hold services regularly. (See footnote A for details about the other active synagogues.)

One synagogue, the Daughters of Jacob on Findlay Avenue, is not a community synagogue. Only those people who are residents of the home may be part of the congregation. At one time it was open to the public.

Congregation Mount Horab, at 1024 Stebbins Avenue (now the street is called Reverend Polite Avenue) has a Black congregation.

The Intervale Jewish Center at 1028 Intervale Avenue, (the synagogue in the book titled, The Miracle on Intervale Avenue) demolished 2006.

Congregation Hope of Israel at 843 Walton Avenue (behind the Bronx County Courthouse) closed 2006.

Format for Photographs

Because many synagogues had several congregational names, the photographs in this survey are organized by location. In addition, people invariably recall the location rather than the name of the synagogue.

The photographs illustrate the status of the surviving synagogue or Jewish institution buildings in the South Bronx. They are presented in the following format:

The information listed on each synagogue includes the name of the synagogue, its location, the date of organization (where available) and what is presently on the site. In the section following the photographs is a list of 166 additional synagogues that existed in the South Bronx and contains the same information for each.

Present Usage of Synagogue Sites

A statistical analysis of the present sites of each synagogue shows that:
78 are churches
54 are empty lots
38 are public buildings (schools, city projects, a
correctional facility, etc
27 are private houses
14 are private agencies (12 in original buildings
13 are businesses
9 are now replaced by an industrial park
7 are now replaced by the Cross Bronx Expressway
4 are now synagogues
5 are now new homes
5 are now city parks
4 are abandoned synagogues
3 are in presently inhabited apartment buildings
3 are in presently utilized office buildings
1 is a parish house
1 is an abandoned apartment house

Maps in the Appendix include present usage of synagogue sites. The first map includes the 78 churches; the second map includes the 4 standing active synagogues and the 4 abandoned synagogues; the third map includes sites that are now empty lots and the Cross Bronx Expressway; and the fourth map includes public buildings and city projects.

The locations of the city projects and public buildings is indicative of those sections of the Bronx that are being rebuilt. The clustered locations of the empty lots is indicative of the areas that are still devastated.

By the very nature of the ethnic population of the South Bronx, the churches have either Spanish speaking or Black parishioners. There are no churches with predominantly white parishioners there.

Of the 78 churches which were formerly synagogues, 56 have mostly or all Black parishioners and 22 have Spanish speaking parishioners.

The largest denomination is Baptist. There are 21 Baptist churches. All are predominantly Black; there are no Spanish speaking Baptist churches in the group.

Of the 12 Pentecostal churches, eight are Spanish speaking and four are Black.

There are five Seventh Day Adventist churches. Four of these have Black parishioners and one has Spanish speaking parishioners.

All three Methodist churches have Black parishioners.

The other 36 churches appear to be unaffiliated with any major Christian denominations. All the synagogue buildings which are still in use as houses of worship in the South Bronx are presently Christian churches except for the four which remain synagogues.

Jews in the Bronx

Jonas Bronck established the first farm in The Bronx in 1639. While New Amsterdam (later New York) grew with outlying farms, the area in what is now The Bronx was a farming community served by a series of small towns.

Before 1874, the entire Bronx was part of Westchester County. In 1874, The Bronx was divided into two sections - the southern and western section became part of New York City and the eastern portion remained part of Westchester. In 1895, the entire area was annexed into New York City. Finally, The Bronx became a borough of New York City in 1898. (4,12)

In the 17th and 18th Centuries, New Amsterdam and the New York City Jews traveled through the area on their way to Jewish communities in Bedford in Westchester County and to New England; they visited with other Jews who lived in Westchester some of whom were the Hays family, which settled in New Rochelle in the latter part of the seventeenth century, the Marks family in Greenburgh, the Jacobs family in Rye or the Davis family in Northcastle; they went through the area to conduct business in Westchester or Connecticut, or, in the case of Lewis Gomez, to the Newburgh area where he traded with the Indians as early as 1712. (36) Abraham I. Abrahams traveled through The Bronx to Bedford and Philipse Manor to perform circumcisions during the latter part of the eighteenth century.(43) Early Jewish settlers in Westchester were members of Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan. They traveled through The Bronx to New York City to attend services.

The first Jews to settle in The Bronx in appreciable numbers came in the 1840s. These were German and Hungarian peddlers and artisans who came in the wake of Irish immigrants as they moved in to work in the construction of the Harlem and Hudson railroad. (37) The Morrisania Directory for 1871, however, lists no synagogues in the area that is now The Bronx. (37)

The first recorded Jewish institution in The Bronx was a Sunday School, organized in 1884 and later incorporated as Temple Hand in Hand. Synagogues and Jewish organizations which were founded before 1895 were: (28,29,33,38,39)
Temple Hand in Hand of the Bronx, at 2772 Third Avenue, in 1884;
Temple Adath Israel, at 793 East 169th Street, in 1889;
Lebanon Hospital, at Cauldwell and Westchester Avenues in 1890;
Agudath Achim Anshe Podal, at 913 Jennings Street in 1890 (This synagogue may have been founded somewhere else and later moved to Jennings Street. The records are not clear.)
Zichron Bachurin Anshei Hungary, at 1137 Prospect Avenue in 1890;
Hebrew Infant Asylum, at Eagle Avenue and 161st Street in 1892;
Zichron Israel of the Bronx, at 1083 Union Avenue in 1894;
Congregation Ein Jacob, at 1424 Minford Place in 1894.

The first Hebrew school was organized on Washington Avenue and 177th Street in 1896 with a $300.00 grant from Shearith Israel. (37) It was listed as the Bronx Educational Alliance in the 1908 edition of the American Jewish Yearbook. (29)

The first Talmud Torah, called the Bronx Tremont Hebrew School, was organized at 1786 Washington Avenue in 1907. There were 300 children, 6 teachers and one principal in the Grammar and High School of the Talmud Torah. (39)

Synagogue Histories

Some synagogues have interesting histories. The Temple Hand in Hand, which was a reform congregation, was organized as a Sunday school in rented quarters at 2772 Third Avenue in 1884. Services were held as part of the Sunday School program. The congregation was incorporated in 1891, two moves before it occupied the building at 463 East 145th Street. This was the first Jewish Temple built in The Bronx. When the congregation consolidated with the Sinai Congregation of The Bronx in 1914, a new congregation, Beth Hamedrash Hagodal Jeshurin, occupied the building. (39)

Almost all congregations started religious services in temporary quarters before renting, erecting or purchasing a permanent synagogue. The author has not included these temporary quarters, some of which existed for several years, in the survey.

In several instances, a church was purchased by a congregation, dedicated as a synagogue, and later became a church again. Talmud Torah Tifereth Israel purchased a Baptist church at 1438 Prospect Avenue in 1920. The building was remodeled and dedicated in 1923. At present, the building is occupied by the Russell Institutional CME Church. (39) Tifereth Israel had purchased a stone and brick building that housed a Baptist church at 1038 Prospect Avenue in 1917 for its services. The building is now the Zion Pentecostal Faith Church. Zeire Jacob at 1815 Washington Avenue was organized in 1904. It purchased an old colonial style stone church building. Presently, the building is occupied by the Iglesia Adventista Del Septimo Dia (Seventh Day Adventist Church). (39)

Most of the examples in the text are related to the synagogues photographed. Except for special historical accounts, (eg. Temple Hand in Hand and Adath Israel which was organized in 1889) no attempt was made to include information about synagogues that were not photographed.

Congregation Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association (YM & YWHA) at 1511 Fulton Avenue was a brick building of modern architecture that had been purchased from the Bronx Church House by the previous congregation, The Bronx Jewish Center. The Bronx Jewish Center was a consolidation of two congregations, Beth Israel and Talmud Torah Sons of Israel. In 1924, the YM & YWHA took over the building, changing the name of the congregation but continuing the activities of the synagogue as part of the organization. The synagogue had no separate entity. At this time, with inside renovations, the building is the Fulton Community Correctional Facility.

In several instances, congregations used the same or similar names as other congregations. For example, the name Adath Israel appears several times. One Temple Adath Israel, founded in 1889 at 793 East 169th Street, was among the first synagogues organized in The Bronx. The second Temple Adath Israel was organized in 1896. Services in the second synagogue were held in a house on Jefferson Place until 1901. Then, a Lutheran church at 551 East 169th Street was purchased, demolished and a new synagogue was erected in its place. In 1927, the synagogue was sold to the Morrisania Baptist Church and a new building was erected on the Grand Concourse and 169th Street. The congregation has since moved to the Riverdale section of The Bronx and become affiliated with the Conservative Synagogue. The first Temple Adath Israel congregation disappeared around the turn of the century. (39)

There were eight congregations whose names started with Beth Hamedrash and five of these used the name Beth Hamedrash Hagodal. Few, if any, were the same congregation that moved from one synagogue to another in the way that Adath Israel moved from 551 East 169th Street to the Grand Concourse.

Some congregations followed a particular rabbi. The Borishansky Cultural Center was in a private house at 1487 Hoe Avenue. In 1933, Rabbi Borishansky moved to 837 Beck Street and became the leader of a new congregation called the Rabbi Borishansky Center.

There are 27 small synagogues (shteebles) which have been converted to private homes. These synagogues were usually in a 2 story house with the rabbi living on the top floor and the congregation utilizing the lower floor. In almost all cases, the congregation was composed of people who followed a charismatic rabbi. The rabbi made the important decisions and controlled the actions of the board of trustees.

When the neighborhood changed and the rabbi and congregation decided to move, a question arose concerning the fate of the building. According to Orthodox Jewish law, a synagogue should not be converted into a church. The rabbi, who was usually Orthodox, did not want to sell to a church if there was any way to avoid the sale. Real estate agents would occasionally arrange to have a private party purchase the building and later have that person transfer title to a church.

In many cases the rabbi arranged the sale so that the building would not become a church. For example, Congregation Machzikah Torah (Nusach Sfard) which was located at 1677 Eastburn Avenue, was sold to two Lebanese brothers. The rabbi would not allow the sale to be completed until a covenant was placed in the deed stating that the house would never be used as a house of worship.

Where congregations were housed in large buildings, it was more difficult to find a purchaser and most such buildings which are still standing have become churches. Some of the large synagogues which did not become churches are presently utilized as day care centers, health facilities, private agencies, a museum and a correctional facility.

Synagogue Architecture

Synagogue architecture in The Bronx was varied. Some congregations purchased church buildings and the synagogues looked like churches (for example, 1438 Prospect Avenue and 1815 Washington Avenue). One, the Montefiore Synagogue, was built with onion domes and was similar to the synagogues of Eastern Europe. Many were shteebles that were housed in two story houses. A large number were rented store fronts, were rented spaces in office buildings or were on second stories of taxpayers. A good number were modest buildings that were built by small congregations and some were majestic synagogues that housed large, wealthy congregations. The Intervale Jewish Center at 1028 Intervale Avenue, made famous in the book by Jack Kugelmas titled, The Miracle of Intervale Avenue, was supposed to have been a large, majestic synagogue. A one story brick building was erected in the 1920s with the understanding that the upper floors would be added at a future time. The Depression of the 1930s stopped the flow of money for construction and the synagogue is still only one story high.

The building of a synagogue in stages over a period of time was not unique to the Intervale Jewish Center. The synagogue of Congregation of Judah Halevi at 1069 Morris Avenue was started in 1904. The basement level was completed that year. In 1914, three additional floors were built. The first floor of the Jewish Center of University Heights at Nelson Avenue and West 174th Street was erected and occupied in 1924. Two additional floors were completed in 1927. Congregation Beth David at 832 Fox Street erected the lower portion of the synagogue in 1924. The upper portion was added in 1926. Each congregation raised additional money to complete the synagogue at a later date. The difference between the Intervale Jewish Center and the other synagogues was the ability of the latter to raise funds to complete the buildings.

Population and Transportation Facilities

The population of The Bronx exploded with the opening of the various elevated subway lines.

The Third Avenue Elevated was completed up to Fordham Road in 1902. The Interboro Rapid Transit (IRT) Woodlawn-Jerome subway line was completed in 1918, and the I.R.T. White Plains and Pelham lines in 1920. The Independent D line that runs under the Grand Concourse was finished in 1933. (42)

In 1930, there were 638,000 people living in the South Bronx. Jews numbered 364,000 or 57.1% of the population in the area at that time. (10)

The following is a list of the number of congregations
Organized in each decade: To date
Organized before 1900 14 14
Organized between 1900 and 1910 21 35
Organized between 1910 and 1920 61 96
Organized between 1920 and 1930 62 158
Organized between 1930 and 1940 35 193
Organized between 1940 and 1950 25 218
Organized between 1950 and 1960 11 229
Organized after 1960 5 234

Where synagogues housed more than one congregation, the date the original congregation was organized is the one recorded. Be reminded that there are no organization dates for 32 congregations.

A review of the founding dates and locations of synagogues shows that the growth of Jewish population was parallel to the growth of the subway transportation system. For example, Washington Avenue is two blocks west of Third Avenue, where the elevated was completed in 1902. There were 15 synagogues and/or Jewish educational institutions on that avenue. Including these 15, there were 38 synagogues which had been in existence at one time or another within two blocks of the Third Avenue Elevated.

There were four synagogues organized within two blocks of Third Avenue before 1900 (before the elevated was completed in 1902). By 1910, thirteen had been organized in the same area and that constituted almost 40% of all the synagogues in the South Bronx.

In some instances, transportation was not a factor in determining where the Jews did or did not live. For example, there were no synagogues in the 20th century in the area bounded by Melrose Avenue on the east, 161st Street on the north, the Grand Concourse on the west and the Harlem River on the south.

Information from Records and other Sources

Information about synagogues in The Bronx is difficult to find in many cases. The Works Progress Administration's Historical Records Survey, for instance, was completed in 1939. Any synagogue organized after that date would not be included in their research. Also, there were some synagogues named in other sources that were omitted from the Historical Records Survey.

The Guide to Vital Statistics in the City of New York, published in 1942, includes all the dates of organization, but little additional information. Here too, there were a number of omissions. Only 72 synagogues are listed, although more than twice that number had been organized prior to its date of publication. Finally, the American Jewish Yearbook (1907-1908) lists synagogues but provides no dates of organization. Again, more synagogues were omitted than included in this source.

There are 32 synagogues for which no date of organization could be found. Some names appear in a telephone book and not in a later telephone book. Some city records have no date of organization or founding but list the synagogue as being in existence. The Jewish Communal Register of 1918 lists 40 synagogues in the Bronx. Five of these show the dates of organization.

Where there is conflicting information from different sources, the author selected the facts that he deemed correct. In most instances, the final decision was based on background material that was cross-referenced from other sources.

Many synagogues that existed are not listed in this book. Some were organized only for the High Holy holidays. Catering halls (such as the Elsmere Catering Hall on 170th Street east of the Grand Concourse) and movie theaters (such as the Prospect Theater on Prospect Avenue near Westchester Avenue) were used only for holiday services. These had no congregational names. A rabbi and a cantor would send out flyers and would post signs around the neighborhood advertising the location. People who had no synagogue affiliation would flock to these temporary synagogues to attend Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur services.

There were many store front synagogues in the South Bronx. Few records were kept regarding these synagogues and none could be found that had tax exempt status. Most of the information about these synagogues was received from people who responded to requests for personal impressions, reminiscences and anecdotes. Also, the Historical Records Survey conducted by the Works Progress Administration in 1939-1940 records a number of store front synagogues.

In one instance, someone contacted the author to say that she knew of a synagogue she had visited with her grandparents on Mapes Avenue one or two blocks north of Tremont Avenue. She did not know its name or address. Her grandparents lived in an apartment house (on the east side of the street) across from a two storey house that was a synagogue. The author visited the street and discovered that there were several apartment houses on the east side of the street but all the two family houses had been demolished and there were only empty lots where the synagogue should have been. No records were found that this synagogue ever existed. When the author discussed the situation with the respondent, she described the street and the apartment house as well as the exterior and interior of the synagogue. Her description of the street and apartment building was exactly as it is today.

No effort is made to include Benevolent and Burial Societies (Landsmanshaft) in this survey. Information is available on these organizations as part of the Works Progress Administration, Writers Project which can be found at the Forty Second Street Public Library in New York City. The information is written in Yiddish.

Tips on Photographing Synagogues

Most areas of the South Bronx are relatively safe. Sometimes, the old synagogue is the only building standing in the block; in other instances, there are thriving businesses next to or across the street from the church; and, at times, the building is in a quiet, residential neighborhood.

Some areas were obviously dangerous and a companion was desirable.

Generally, the best time to photograph buildings is early in the morning on cold, clear days. There are few people on the street. The worst time is late in the afternoon. When the author originally took photographs while he was alone, his precautions were simple - he never left the car if he saw people who were nearby; no one ever came between the car and the author; he was never more than ten feet from the car; no one was closer than 100 feet from him; and the car was running with the door open.

Beyond the South Bronx

The "Other Synagogues" section contains a listing of synagogues in the North Bronx and east of the Bronx River. These Bronx synagogues are (or were) beyond the South Bronx, in sections other than south of Fordham Road and between the Harlem and Bronx Rivers.

The records of every taxexempt property in the Bronx were reviewed. Interestingly enough, some active synagogues were not recorded in the current taxexempt records at the assessor's office.

At the same time the taxexempt records were reviewed, the current Verizon Bronx telephone book, "Directions" (published by "Jewish Week"), "New Lifestyles" (New York Metro edition), "Places of Worship" (GenExchange), "Temples and Synagogues" ( which lists synagogues offering wedding services) and "List of Congregations" (The Jewish Community of Pelham Parkway) were used to find additional synagogues.

There were several instances where a synagogue was listed in a directory but was found to be closed. For example, the Intervale Jewish Center on Intervale Avenue had not been an active synagogue for the past 15 years and was no longer in existence but was still listed in "Directions" (Read Miracle of Intervale Avenue by Jack Kugelmass, 1986).

Historical information was found for many synagogues. For others, the only information was a name and an address.

As of January, 2007, the author found 89 synagogues (active or no longer used for their original purpose) in the North Bronx and East of the Bronx River. Forty-six were still active, while fifty-four were no longer utilized as synagogues. They are now churches, private homes, stores, abandoned buildings, a school annex, a nursing home, an empty lot, a day care facility and a home health care center.


I want to thank the many people who and organizations that were helpful in the research.

Among the people who were invaluable were Professor Lloyd Ultan of The Bronx County Historical Society who encouraged me to continue and offered suggestions when I was not sure of the direction of my research, Stuart Rubin, who accompanied me on many photographic excursions, Donald L. Foster, The Assessor in Charge for the Bronx, who allowed me to review the restored tax exemption files and the many people who responded to requests in various Jewish newspapers for information about synagogues in the South Bronx. Space prohibits the use of all of the responses I have received to my requests for anecdotal material. To everyone who did send information, I am eternally grateful.

Among the organizations that were of assistance were:
The Bronx County Historical Society, Bronx, New York
The New York State Library, Albany, New York
Yeshiva University Library, New York, New York
National Archives and Records Service, G.S.A.,
Washington, D.C.
New York City Municipal Archives, New York, New York
New York Public Library, New York, New York
American Jewish Historical Society, Waltham, Mass.