HISTORY OF ARDEN HEIGHTS BOULEVARD JEWISH CENTER, CONGREGATION ETZ CHAIM

By Joey Katz, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, May 2004

Approximately twenty eight years ago the Boulevard Jewish Center of Brooklyn, located on Linden Boulevard and Rockaway Avenue lost almost all of its membership to suburban migration. The remaining membership was forced to sell off their building/sanctuary. They had one large problem remaining; how to maintain their two memorial boards.

Along came the Arden Heights Jewish Center, which had been in existence on Staten Island for about three years [established in 1973]. At first it was housed in a church on Woodrow Road, and then [1975] it bought property at 1766 Arthur Kill Road. This piece of property at one time was a privately owned farm. The house on the property was at least 100 years old, and it showed. The living room was turned into a sanctuary (our shul.) The Torah was kept in an "armoire." In order to help sustain the "new" sanctuary and property, some of the rooms of the house were leased to the Jewish Community Center for their nursery school. There was a plan. The Boulevard Jewish Center would donate a total of $40,000, which was the proceeds of their building sale, plus a Torah to the Arden Heights Jewish Center. There were two conditions. Their two memorial boards would have to be maintained and the Arden Heights Jewish Center would become the Arden Heights Boulevard Jewish Center.

The conditions were accepted, and the two synagogues became one.

The $40,000 was used as a down payment for part of our present building. The remaining financing came from a twenty five year mortgage. That mortgage has now been paid off.

Though we built this initial building 26 years ago, we still did not have a permanent sanctuary. We were using the armoire as our ark in what is now our present social hall. Our building fund was bare of any money necessary for expansion. The men's club began to have a very productive fund-raiser. They were able to raise approximately $125,000 towards the construction of our present building; which includes a sanctuary with a "real ark," four classrooms, a principal's office, and a rabbi's office.

Harvey Burko, who was Chairman of the Board at the time insisted that we would not refinance our mortgage and increase our debt. The total cost of the new addition was approximately $150,000. This was what I would call an assisted miracle. The heating and air conditioning alone was over $30,000. Paul Plus, Ira Winter, Harvey Bunko, Shelly Reich, and myself, worked with, fought with, and conjured the builders to keep the costs from being any higher. It was a miracle. It should have cost us over a quarter of a million dollars. As a result, our ,mortgage is now paid off and we are left without any debt. Mazel Tov. .......

During our first twenty years as a synagogue we had at least ten different Rabbis'. When I became president, we had just gotten a new rabbi (as usual); he lasted for one year. The following year we had another one year rabbi. It was an un-tenable situation to say the least. Our Hebrew School was growing, the number of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were growing, yet, we had no continuity in a rabbi. But, at that time we had a very experienced rabbi search committee.

Every avenue was used to try and locate a rabbi to satisfy our needs. I spoke to a rabbi from San Diego who responded to our ad in the Jewish Week, He was looking for a change in his pulpit and, if necessary, would move to the east coast. After many prolonged telephone conversations with this rabbi, I had a very good feeling towards this man. Shelly Reich and I decided that he should send us a video tape recording of one of his most recent sermons and we would present it to the Board of Trustees for viewing. The Board was not overwhelmed. Shelly and I felt that we had to bring the Rabbi here so that they, and the congregation, would get a chance to meet him at Shabbat services. It was a battle to get the reluctant Board to spend in excess of three hundred dollars in order to fly the rabbi to New York. I told the Board that we had NO choice; this was our best shot at getting a competent rabbi. The Board relented, spent the money, the rabbi spent the weekend, and we now celebrate ten years of Stephen Stern as our Rabbi and Spiritual leader.

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