For three intrepid Orthodox rabbis, 15 miles is not too long a walk if it means helping elderly Jews continue to observe the Sabbath and pray.
Fifteen Miles from Crown Heights to Parkchester
Rabbi Meir Kavabow, Levi Kabakow and Rabbi Shmuel Notik begin their Sabbath in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. At about 5am they wake up and start their four hour journey to Parkchester in the Bronx, crossing both the Williamsburg and Willis Avenue bridges and stopping several times for a drink of water from a playground water fountain.
At last they arrive at the run-down building, which serves the dwindling Jewish community in Parkchester as a place to pray on the Sabbath. During the rest of the week the facility houses the Al-Iman Mosque and Islamic Leadership School.
Last Remnant of Large Jewish Community
Parkchester was a bustling Jewish community in the 1940s, with at least 7 synagogues in full operation, and hundreds more in the rest of the Bronx. Over the years the neighborhood changed with almost all of the Jews moving out to Long Island, Westchester, or elsewhere, leaving a tiny vestige of its once vibrant Jewish life.
On January 1st 2008 the last synagogue in Parkchester, Young Israel of Parkchester, ran out of money and was forced to close. On that very day Rabbi Shmuel Notik, 25, arrived without forewarning at the Young Israel storefront schule on White Plains Road.
It Was a Miracle
Seventy-eight year old Leon Bleckmen remembers that day:
“It was our last service,” said Bleckman. “We had no rabbi. They walked in and it was like the messiah coming down from heaven. It was a miracle.”
After that Rabbi Notik and the group of rabbis and rabbinical students which he brings along founded a new synagogue, Beis Menachem of Parkchester, using the Islamic building as their space.
Bleckmen is excited by the new turn of events for him and the remaing Jewish community in Parkchester:
“There are still Jews in Parkchester, but they don’t know we have a synagogue,” he said. “We need to get the word out. We need every soul we can get.”
Some other congregants, such as 82-year-old Harvey Weiner are just grateful:
“It takes them four hours and sometimes the weather is terrible,” said Weiner. “But without them, we’d be lost.”