Our long-term members are the foundation upon which we have built our wonderful community and thriving synagogue. We are grateful for their decades of support and the many ways they have participated in the life of our shul and community. Read and hear their warm reflections and stories of what brought them to Ansche Chesed, of a time when Ansche Chesed sustained them during a difficult time, and of what Ansche Chesed means to them and their families. Please check this page periodically as long-term members and reflections are added.
The gratitude and appreciation and heartfelt memories of our long-term members illuminate our future.
Click on the names below to view their reflections:
We starting coming to Ansche Chesed about 35 years ago. At that time, the synagogue had no Rabbi, no Cantor, not nearly enough people to fill the Sanctuary and netting hanging from the ceiling so that peeling plaster would not hurt anyone. On Shabbat, we met in the chapel in what was called the Chapel Minyan in those days.
Who davened at Ansche Chesed in those days?
There was a combination of a small number of older long time members and young people in their 20’s and thirties, mainly couples a few of whom had young children. Ansche Chesed had an unusually beautifully designed and decorated building but like other Upper West Side Synagogues had dwindling membership and had fallen into disrepair without the membership to support a large building.
How do you explain the attraction that Ansche Chesed with dwindling membership and a building in disrepair had to young people?
To answer that question, one has to step back a bit and understand that time and the era that preceded it. At the time there was a revival in interest in religion in general and in Judaism in particular. While universities taught existentialism and scientific analytic processes, post Holocaust writers questioned if God ever existed, if God were dead or if one would want to worship a God who allowed the Holocaust to happen. Secularism seemed the only rational option for intelligent educated people and yet there was a yearning for spirituality, for connection with one’s heritage, with one’s people, for a sense of community. A belief that in all those thousands of years, there must have been something of value that enabled the Jewish people to survive, that was passed on from generation to generation, something that was worth saving, something that by continuing would serve as the ultimate evidence of the defeat of the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate the Jews. For without Jews, there is no Judaism and without Judaism how long would we remain Jews.
In those days ritual was often viewed with skepticism, as though it was a form of magic being practiced by those too ignorant to know there was no magic. Judaism as well as the other major religions were patriarchal and sexist, in a time of a sexual revolution and the movement for woman’s equality.
I had grown up in a large suburban congregation, a Jewish Temple and Center which served both as a synagogue and as a kind of Jewish country club, at a time when antisemitism was palpable and Jews were excluded from many country clubs and excluded or limited by quotas at universities. Lavish Bar Mitzvah parties were held, with all the accoutrements of a wedding, sometimes, like Larry’s with 13 year olds in tuxedos. These celebrations were a symbol that first generation Jews has made it in America, that they were not the poor immigrants of their parent’s generation, they had embraced hard work and the opportunities their parents didn’t have in Eastern Europe.
But our generation had been influenced by the civil rights movements some of our members had marched in Selma and most of us taken part in the Vietnam war protests, a time when peace and love and nature were emphasized, with long hair and blue jeans or no clothes at all, not fancy clothes and material success, a time when we had learned that we had the power to change the world.
Just as our parents’ generation had sought to separate themselves from their parents, so too our generation sought its own path.
It was in this context that Ansche Chesed was revitalized. It was a place where men and women were equal, where girls could have a Bat Mitzvah, non-existent in my youth, where people came to shul dressed casually, where there were no auctioning off of the better seats to the wealthiest congregants, where the young members almost all had graduated degrees and many were students or on the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary. As there was no clergy, or authority figures, it was entirely participatory, with members taking on all roles. Where the evocative power of ritual was understood in the context of history and metaphor not as part of a magical belief system. Here ancient texts were discussed in terms of the scholarship of the author or of psychology, social justice was an integral part of the Jewish perspective and small minyans and havurahs allowed for intimacy and friendship. It seemed like both a radically different kind of synagogue experience while at the same time, there was an essential continuity in its essence which was familiar. While some of the minyans had initially met in people’s apartments and then raised money to maintain an apt., they ultimately asked Ansche Chesed, to let them meet in their underutilized space, and they stayed latter as rental tenants and eventually as synagogue members.
It was in this context that the Chapel minyan,( to which we belonged) existed, distinguished at the time by its mixture of generations and inclusion of longtime Ansche Chesed members. Two of the key families in the Chapel minyan were the Raiks and the Strassfelds. Jerry Raik served as a kind of chazzan and teacher leading daily and Shabbat services, singing elrachamim at yizkor, and running his havurah school. The other pillar was Michael and Sharon Strassfeld. This was before Michael worked as educational director at Ansche Chesed or decided to go to Rabbinical school and later become the congregation’s Rabbi. The Strassfeld’s had authored the very influential “Jewish Catalogue,” a kind of how to book of the practice and meaning of Jewish rituals and lifecycles, followed by his book” Jewish Holidays”. As exemplified in those books, there was a combination of innovation and tradition, a down to earth quality, in the people, but davening with such ruach that it could soar to the heavens, and it no longer seemed to matter whether or not there was any God to hear it. Services became a guide to living and finding meaning in daily life.
Can you share with us some memories of becoming a parent at Ansche Chesed?
Sharon Strassfeld and I were pregnant at the same time, and I didn’t know then that we both were carrying sons, (in those days the sex of the child was a surprise,) who would be friends til this day, one of a number of kids our son is still friends with from Ansche Chesed.
I remember speaking at the Kiddush with a very pregnant woman and her husband, who would go on to become one of our closest friends, Faye and David Brooks, with whom we shared simchas, and holidays and a country house.
I remember us taking a Jewish baby naming class with Sarah Jacobs where we discussed the meaning of different names, naming customs and naming ceremonies for girls,( a relatively new practice at the time), and boys.
We took a pregnancy class with Arlene Eisenberg, who was doing research for a book on pregnancy, hat would turn out to be the best seller “What to Expect When You Are Expecting.”
I remember celebrating the Bris of our son in the chapel and celebrating with live klezmer musicians, bagels and smoked fish with friends and family and the Ansche Chesed daily minyan. Inspired by our baby naming class, we spoke of we why we named him Jesse David, after both of our grandfathers, and connection of the names to one another, (the line of Jesse and David), and to his Biblical namesakes, this was one of the happiest days of my life.
What type of children’s programming was there?
While initially we had no Hebrew School or Youth group, we did have wonderful children’s Shabbat services. Elana Sassower taught the parshat to our preschoolers and I will never forget the image of our son dancing with a cloth Torah and joyfully singing “Torah Torah …”.
I remember thinking that it would be hard to keep an active boy in the apt in the winter on Shabbat afternoons and I approached the synagogue about opening up the gym to members for their children on Saturday afternoon and I offered to supervise them. As I have always found at Ansche Chesed, the Board was responsive and while the details of the program have changed over time, this program has become a part of the lives of a generation of Ansche Chesed kids.
Learning at Ansche Chesed is not just relegated to services and classes, one of the most significant and impactful tips of our life came over Kiddush, not a stock tip, but a tip from Linda Messing that the Heschel School was going to be opening up a preschool class for 3 year olds the next year and that interviews of 2 year olds were starting immediately. As a new parent, I had not imagined that we and my 2 year old already needed to be applying for school. But with Linda’s tip, I called on Monday, secured an interview and the rest is a history filled with our sons lifelong friends, one of whom’s fiancé set him up with his girlfriend.
During the years I was a single parent, I approached the synagogue about organizing a single parent group, and as always they were responsive. At that time this was something new, and we were written up in the B’nai Brith magazine for our innovative program. We had Shabbat meals and Seders together as well as going on excursions to the beach and the zoo. It was at one of these Seders, that a modern orthodox woman and her son, attended that I would meet one of my dear friends, Judy Abrams, of blessed memory. I was recently honored to be asked, by her son Baruch, to attend the zoom brit of her grandson. While this group brought friends and companionship for Jesse and me, it gave the kids the experience of being able to be with” kids who are just like me”.
Out of the hundreds or thousand services you both have attended at Ansche Chesed what stands out as memorable?
I remember the impromptu service called on September 11th, when our new Rabbi, Jeremy Kalmonofsky, instinctively knew what to do at that terrible moment, we needed to come together, to comfort one another, to pray and I will never forget the relief and tears of joy in seeing each face,as we did not yet know who was alive and who had died.
I remember sitting in the sanctuary proudly listening to my son speak about holiness, when he was called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah, as his parshat was Kedoshim, You shall be Holy for I the Lord your God am Holy, and his remarks sparking me to realize that it is not that God is ordering us to be Holy, but that God is Holiness, that God is that which is Holy and that it is our challenge to bring that which is holy into our daily lives. I remember my surprise and delight, when a group of my friends from Minyan Rimonim jumped up, grabbed us and starting dancing around Jesse, which was not our custom in the sanctuary minyan at the time, while singing Simon Tov and Mazel Tov. This was another one of the happiest days of my life.
I remember the joyous singing on Rosh Hoshanah and hearing the blasts of the shofar resonating with the Jews of the an ancient desert past and with all the others in synagogues around the world past and present and hearing women blow the shofar, something unheard of when I was growing up.
I remember the power of the intense davening of Neliah on Yom Kippur and turning my head to find that my son had appeared by my side.
I remember sitting in services with my dear friend, Nancy Reibstein, and her daughter Rebecca, on Shabbat, on High Holidays, for Yizkor. Nancy, wasn’t a friend we met at Ansche Chesed but a friend that we introduced to Ansche Chesed.
I remember the comfort of hearing El rachahmim on my sister’s yahrzeit sung by Jerry Raik and Cantor Hirshorn.
I remember hearing the new Cantor, we had not had a Cantor while I was a member of Ansche Chesed before and not yet a woman Cantor, lead Selichot Services and bring me to tears with such a piercingly beautiful sound. Never before had I been so moved in a service but that was to be only the first time and not the last that her davening brought tears to my eyes.
I remember sitting in shul with Larry and being so happy to have him in my life, to share Shabbat and holidays with, to have found someone who is comfortable with and finds meaning in the same services and the same community.
I remember the Sukkot meals on the roof, with their wonderful singing, organized by Michael Brochstein, and the hikes and rafting trips and Shabbat dinners that his Outings group ran.
I remember sitting in shul with my mother in law on the holidays and one year she had trouble walking the 2 blocks from our house to services on Yom Kippur, I didn’t know what to do as she couldn’t seem to go forward or back and seemingly out of nowhere 2 fireman appeared and carried her into the sanctuary of the synagogue.
I remember returning from sitting shiva at my brother in law’s house to sit shiva at our house and on almost no notice, Rabbi Kalmonofsky and Cantor Hirschhorn ,and our good friends Mark and Naomi Paul and other friends from shul, showed up for a minyan, even though it was the night of a Board meeting. I remember how touched Larry was by the time spent and the words that Rabbi Kalmonofsky shared with him and how he listened to him.
I remember the memorial service for the Jews killed at Etz Chaim in Pittsburgh, with people lined up around the block trying to get in and how proud I was that it was at our shul and that our shul was involved in organizing this service. It seemed like the right response to this terrible tragedy which not only was a senseless loss of life but erased our feeling of being safe, of being immune to the killing of Jews that we had seen in Europe. This felt especially close to home to us, as we know the Rabbi of this shul, from his previous position and the way the service was handled gave us the outlet for our pain , for our anger, for our fear, it gave us strength and courage and perspective to be able to move forward.
We remember being taught in shul to bump elbows and not to shake hands or kiss friends as a new virus was spreading and We remember our first zoom congregational Seder and asking for zoom services and once again Ansche Chesed answered the call with zoom Shavout and Shabbat services and Rabbi Hammerman’s zoom classes on the Shabbat and daily services, hopefully to be followed by a class on high holiday services.
But what I remember most is that in all these years and in all the different stages of our life, Ansche Chesed has been there for us. Week after week, day in and day out, sharing some of the happiest moments of our life and comforting us at some of the saddest, most difficult and most painful times. Responsive to our changing needs, as long as we are willing to take the initiative to show up and to speak up, and when we couldn’t come to them, they came to us. When called, Ansche Chesed has always answered Hineni.
In the spring of 1979, I was visiting New York from Cambridge, Massachusetts and was invited to the shabbat morning service at Barry Holtz’s apartment. I felt right at home because I was accustomed to such davening. When I moved to New York in the fall the Minyan M’at had shifted its home to Ansche Chesed, and 41 years later this is still my main davening community.
On every anniversary of our marriage, the Minyan is especially acknowledged because it is through the minyan that I met Jerome Chanes at a pre-shavuot dinner hosted by Sandee Brawarsky. We are featured in her book How to Meet a Man as Smart as You Are.
The minyan was thrilled that Jerome was in my life because he was often a shaliach tzibbur, gave divrei Torah, and served on the Troika 3 times.
Our next life cycle event, the bris of our son Adam was celebrated in the newly renovated Ansche Chesed sanctuary. Hundreds attended despite the snow storm because the Jewish people needed a celebration of life after the nightmarish assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the commemoration of the shloshim.
For the next twelve years Adam and I attended the Ansche Chesed children’s service religiously every Shabbat morning, which was led by Ilana and later by Mindy of blessed memory and Tommy. Adam loved teaching the other children how to read Torah. The Ansche Chesed children’s service was very special and I attribute his love for shul to being nurtured in this environment.
The next Jewish life cycle event that was at Minyan M’at was Adam’s Bar Mitzva. The Ansche Chesed staff, particularly Josh was instrumental in making sure that every detail was well executed. In the evening the sanctuary was turned into a theatrical stage, and Hirsch Hall and the rest of the downstairs was turned into a sixties’ night club. The caterer of blessed memory Amy of Foremost so appreciated how accommodating the Ansche Chesed staff was to an outsider caterer. Rabbi Jeremy Kaminofsky gave Adam the reassurance he needed to get up there in front of hundreds of people.
I most appreciate that when a family cannot afford an extravagant Bar or Bat Mitzva, members of the community volunteer to prepare food and deserts so that the responsibility of a Mitzva Seuda is the obligation of everyone in the shul and not just the immediate family.
During the life cycle events we do not look forward to in life, that of death, Jerome and I felt very supported by our community. We did not feel alone particularly when Eva’s parents died since many people knew them. Her mother and father often attended the minyan and enjoyed getting to know other Me’atniks and their families who were always very welcoming.
In recent years the upper west side of Manhattan has been burgeoning with houses of worship and Torah classes. We have availed ourselves of this Jewish renaissance but Ansche Chesed is my home. During Succot families don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to eat in the Succah. To attend scholar in residence programs does not leave out those who cannot afford substantial fees. The egalitarian philosophy behind the workings of Amsche Chesed is very welcoming in this materialistic world which is so rampant in many congregations. We have introduced several friends to Ansche Chesed who have joined. We have spoken at Holocaust commemorations and at special dinners at the shul.
Ansche Chesed represents a broad range of our values -- egalitarianism, Jewish feminism, Zionism, social justice, human rights, respect for those who are different, interreligious cooperation, study of Torah, Jewish music, and Chesed.
Where else in the Jewish community can one be honored without being a mega donor?
Jerome and I look forward to the next 41 years as our community grows from strength to strength
It’s 1977 and we’ve just moved to the Upper West Side after 4 years in Baltimore and 4 years in Jerusalem. The Upper West Side is a scary place – we stop policemen on the street to ask if they think it’s safe to buy an apartment at 91st Street; when we have our first child she knows the names of the hookers on the corner and the scruffy guys who seem to be permanently implanted in front of OTB (Off Track Betting) next to the hookers.
It is no wonder, then, that our safe havens become the New York Havurah (we had been the founders of the Baltimore Havurah), the West Side Minyan, and the Chapel Minyan at Ansche Chesed. How sad we were when we learned that the minyan at AC had dwindled to 9 attendees and the building might have to be sold. Dr. Emil Lehman and Mayer Cavalier had so warmly welcomed us and we felt so at home there. Michael Strassfeld recruited us to join a small band of farbrente Yidden to go from door to door, soliciting UWS lawyers and doctors and finance people, “Would you contribute $100 for this historic building not to be sold to a church or Lubavitch?”
And, indeed, it worked. Ansche Chesed began to grow again. The stalwarts like Jerry Raik and Michael Wolf were there with great davening energy, and people came in the door and joined. Being the only Conservative shul in America that allowed potluck dinners with strict rules about who could bring what was like a badge of honor. One thing was sure: Ansche Chesed was a second home for all of us – especially our kids. We raised our kids together, fulfilling the famous line “It takes a village. . .” any A.C. kid from the 80s will tell you that s/he was raised by many people in addition to his/her biological parents. Not to mention the children knowing every nook and cranny of that enormous building including the hidden staircase to the balcony! And yes, terrifying their parents after leaving services, riding plastic motorcycle toys and scooters from 100th Street to 96th Street at breakneck speed on those deeply-angled 4 blocks!
No surprise that, in a matter of years, Ansche Chesed’s Chapel Minyan had to move to become the Sanctuary Minyan, with membership reaching the 500s! Ansche Chesed – second home to so many adults and children!
What Brought You To Ansche Chesed
I moved to my current home on Riverside Drive in the summer of 1984 I contacted David Fishman, whom I knew from childhood (his father was the Rabbi for my small town synagogue at the time, and our families stayed close for several years after he decamped to NYC) David brought me to services at Ma't, just at a time when they were debating what to do about "newcomers". Seemingly an inauspicious time to join this minyan, I tried West Side Minyan the next week and was immediately welcomed and felt that this clearly was my new Jewish home I then joined the Anshe Chesed community although did not participate in classes or other activities. After I left full-time work in 2009 I started attending Morning Minyan weekly and was so pleased to discover that wonderful community. I started attending Reb K's monthly Tuesday morning classes and discovered what an immensely talented and learned teacher he is. The spring of 2020 made me realize how very grateful I was to Anshe Chesed leadership for keeping me more involved than ever: I have enjoyed learning from Rabbi Kalmanofsky and Rabbi Hammerman and look forward to the virtual Shabbat and holiday services and to the day when we can meet again as we did in the Before
When Was A Time When Ansche Chesed Sustained You In A Difficult Time?
My mother died in the summer of 1984 early on a Shabbos morning. Her Rabbi was way out of town, so after Havdalah I called the Mowshowitz's for advice. They offered to meet me the next morning after morning minyan and confirmed that I could lead the services myself; they brought a book and carefully walked me through the service. (after the funeral service, the funeral director was very impressed and said he should offer me a job). Shiva was completely covered by my Jewish community: Rabbi Kalamofsky came over to offer his condolences, the shul delivered the mourner's chair and enough prayer books, and my West Side Minyan community kept me supplied with food and company any any other needs. That is when I realized how important it was to be a member of "my Jewish community"
What best illustrates what AC means to you?
In 2001, I was planning to spend the High Holidays with my maternal clan in the Philadelphia area, as I thought that it might be the last year that my ailing mother could travel. Then came the horrors of September 11, and for some reason I had an overwhelming urge to stay home and pray with West Side Minyan at Anshe Chesed. Somehow, I needed to be with "my Jews". I could not articulate why I felt this need, and my Philadelphia relatives were not pleased that I changed plans, but I felt that I had made exactly the right decision
Sometime after joining AC in the days of a sanctuary that was quite literally falling down, we were welcomed into the community at a New Members gathering at Jerry and Barrie’s apartment. Thirty-four years later, we’re still sharing meals at the Raik’s along with friends we’ve met through Havurah School, the Sanctuary Service, work at the shelter, the Hanukkah Arts Festival and repainting the Sanctuary.
Along the way we’ve celebrated a bat mitzvah and mourned our loved ones with the AC community. We’ve studied and learned, begun to understand our responsibility in helping to repair the world and participated in thoroughly enjoyable silliness at Purim. We’ve delighted in the music and are inspired by the words and actions of AC members.
There’s still a lot to repair but also the need for joy and celebration. We hope we’ll have the opportunity for both in our fourth decade at Ansche Chesed.
So, Here are two memories. (If my memory serves me well)
The first describes how we came to Minyan M’at:
We had been davening at the Karlbach shul, which had a very high cement wall “mechitzah”. One day, during Sukkot, I said to Walter that I was not angry but was never going to that shul ever again. It had very sweet melodies, but the physical space did not project the message I wanted to project to my daughter about female power and equality in the world. We had heard about Minyan Ma’at from David Szonyi, with whom I had crossed paths in AIDS work, and he had explained about this chavurah that had recently moved from homes to a room in Anche Chesed. The next Shabbat morning Walter went to the minyan. This was the Shabbat after the incursion into the refugee camps Sabra and Shatila. Barry Holtz, who was davening, explained that although the Minyan (in those days) did not do the Haftorah, he was going to suggest that we read it, in English, as it mentioned Lebanon. Walter returned home to Shabbat lunch and quietly said...eureka. The combination of seriousness and nuanced understatement was very impressive and inviting. We have been active and devoted members ever since.
The second involves the death of my Mom, Bess Neveloff:
At that point in our lives, Walter taught a course on the theater every January in London. That year, 1996, my Mom was ailing and I did not fly with Walter. Mom’s doctor heard of my decision and called and said that her situation could go on for years and I should not forego my trip. I did go to London and 2 days later Mom died. When I returned, all was ready for shiva, chairs and prayer books had been delivered, mirrors were covered, all meals had been organized, and shiva minyanim had been arranged. Being part of a community to celebrate and to mourn is a blessing.
We met on the 5th floor of AC in 1983. The West Side minyan occupied the 5th floor in those days and was in its “hippy heyday,” replete with pillows on the floor which served as seating. Many of our closest friends to this day are people we met at the West Side Minyan and at Minyan M’at. Ansche Chesed has been the location of so many happy events in our life, starting with our wedding on Lag B’Omer 1984, the brit milah of each of our 3 sons and their bar-mitzvahs. We were the 2nd couple to get married in the newly renovated Hirsch Hall. However, the Sanctuary where our huppah was held, was so decrepit that there was a huge net hanging from the ceiling to catch falling plaster. In fact, on our wedding day, Pearl stopped by the Sanctuary to remove pieces of plaster that had fallen through the netting onto the pews. We are thrilled that Ansche Chesed has continued to grow and thrive and we look forward to celebrating more s’machot in the spaces that hold so much meaning and memories for our family.
David first attended Ansche Chesed in 1959 when he was eight and his father had just been hired as its Rabbi. He remembers officers in silk top hats sitting on the bimah, a sonorous organ, a star cantor, but little congregational singing.
David rejoined AC as an adult in 1980, in addition to joining Minyan M’at. Mindy had already experienced M’at (while it still was meeting in an apartment), and though moving to DC in 1981, she joined David at M’at (2nd, then 6th floor) on alternate-commuting Shabatot throughout their courtship and first year of marriage. Our aufruf was held in upper Hirsch Hall lobby (the then unnamed hall itself being decrepit) in August 1983. We’ve celebrated many subsequent milestones in the same building
We remember the surprise expressed by Akiva & Eliana’s kindergarten teachers at S/A/R at their knowledge of parshat hashavu`a, learned at Elana Sassower’s AC kids service. Oren’s brit milah was held at AC in 1994, as well as the Bar/Bat Mitzvah events and celebrations of all 3 kids. Eliana had to prepare a new BM talk when 9/11 blew up our world in 2001, five days prior. That Friday night, the mass of UWS Jewry streamed to AC, walking by candles lit at the entrances to apartment buildings and brownstones – to find comfort at AC in a time of fear.
We both served on the Minyan troika and the AC Board: David in the 90’s including three years as Treasurer, Mindy in the 2010’s including a stint on the Executive Committee.
We were mostly busy with work and family, but our community was vital in helping to raise 3 kids, modeling values of community, prayer, thoughtful lay-led services, study and activities of g’milut xasadim (“paying it forward”), in both the Jewish and general environments. We know their current level of success and happiness owes much to AC.
I have been a member of Ansche Chesed since around 1993. I had returned to NYC after years working in DC, where I had been a member of Fabrangen, and a year in Israel, where I had begun my rabbinical studies at HUC-JIR. My friends in DC told me that there was only one place in Manhattan that embodied the participatory, egalitarian nature of Fabrangen and the havurah movement: Ansche Chesed. On my first Shabbat at the shul, I somehow wound up at Minyan M’at, and was initially greeted by Michael Brochstein, with whom I am still good friends. In 1997, I became one of the founding members of Minyan Rimonim, and to this day (at least until COVID-19..), I split my Saturday mornings between M’at and Rimonim.
I used to jokingly call the congregation the People’s Republic of Ansche Chesed, since the inmates of the various minyanim really did run the asylum! Many things have changed over the years, but the community’s values, which are all-too-rare in the Jewish/shul world, have remained the same: a welcoming attitude towards all comers, no matter their economic status, marital status, parenting status, or sexual orientation; the granting of “macher” standing to congregants based on their sweat equity, rather than in response to the size of their monetary contributions; and the ongoing desire to uphold both Jewish practice and engagement with the wider world.
We joined AC in 1983, when our daughter Penina was born and named at AC. We were in the chapel. The "regular" shul members were in the sanctuary. After the service, we served sponge cake and wine. I remember Jerrry Raik, the Greens and my parents, and brother being at the service. Ansche Chesed quickly became an important part of our lives and has remained so to this day. We have celebrated our and other members' innumerable life cycle events.
We have many close friends at the shul. I was involved with the Hanukah Arts Festival for many years, and our daughter thought if was the most important event of the year as she was growing up. There have been board and committee meetings, services upon services and lots of great food. We've moved from no rabbi, to Michael, to Jeremy, and now to Yael and Jeremy as our rabbis. And we love that Natasha is with us. Throughout it all, we have been and are proud to be members and are delighted to be honored for hanging around so long! Alivai, we hope to be around for many years to come.
Thank you Ansche Chesed for everything,
In some ways it feels like it wasn't that long ago that I moved to New York City (although it was in '99). My first apartment was on 95th street, because it was so close to Ansche Chesed. I'd davened there a few times when I visited friends on the upper west side, and so I knew that I wanted to live near Ansche Chesed. Over the years, I've davened in all the spaces -- 6th floor, 5th floor, 4th floor, Chapel, Sanctuary, Hirsch Hall -- and managed to have life cycle events in most of them as well. I met Valerie in the Chapel, and we had our Aufruf there. We got married in the Sanctuary. Our son's Bris was on the 5th floor, and his Bar Mitzvah last summer down in Hirsch Hall. We've also been comforted by the community when experiencing loss. I'm looking forward to another 20 years (at least) being part of the Ansche Chesed community.
We were asked to write about what brought us to Ansche Chesed. I want to write about what keeps me at the shul for clost to 30 years by now in a city brimming with religious opportunities.
If we have learned nothing else in these difficult months, it is the importance of sound leadership--leadership that is propelled by a compelling moral vision and individuals who can inspire others to join in and help promote this vision. I have benefited immeasurably from my involvement in AC, a direct reflection of the work of our authentic, caring and creative leaders, always open to new ideas and thoughtful conversation about what it means to be a Jew today.
What brought you to Ansche Chesed?
Tamy: We had attended High Holiday services at AC in the early 70s but didn’t find the fading congregation warm and welcoming (perhaps, I must admit, we didn’t give it enough of a chance).. After years of searching for a community to join in which we felt comfortable, we did hear about the “revival” going on at AC, but it was not until Martin read an excerpt of Paul Cowan’s book, An Orphan in History, in my mother’s Hadassah magazine (who would have believed it? My socialist mother read Hadassah magazine!), just before High Holidays in 1982, that he ventured forth to check it out. Not only was he blown away by the lay-led service, but when he told me that there was actually a woman standing on the bimah, leading the service, I had to see it for myself. After all, we had both grown up in an Orthodox synagogues where the women sat either upstairs or behind the mehitza and all I could ever see was the top of men’s heads; Martin’s bar mitzvah had been conducted in an Orthodox Brooklyn shteibel where the rabbi delivered his drash in Yiddish and his Hebrew school teacher wrote his bar mitzvah speech. Ansche Chesed was certainly different. The energy of people of all ages trying to re-make a community and experimenting with traditional forms was just what we were looking for.
When was a time Ansche Chesed sustained you in a difficult time?
Martin: In the late 80s to early 90s, Tamy had many health crises. During these long bouts of illness, the love and support of all of the friends we had made at AC—Jerry and Barrie Raik, Ellen Tucker and Allen Rosenstein, Rachel and Paul Cowan, Linda and David Shriner Kahn, Ken Gorfinkle and Doris Ullendorf among many others—gave us nourishment (literal and spiritual) and extraordinary support. In better times, the fact that we’re in a community of caring people has been a great comfort. In these recent days of social distancing, the level of activity AC has mounted to keep the community together has been remarkably sustaining to us.
What memory most illustrates what Ansche Chesed means to you?
Tamy: sitting in the chapel on one of those wonderfully uncomfortable “movie” theatre chairs we had before the renovation. The power of remembering l’dor v’dor: Dr. Lehman, Herta and Latzi Shriner, Fanny Beiner, Rachel and Paul Cowan. Having the courage (or was it bravado?) to write a drash, to undertake learning to chant a Haftarah, and finally, how to leyn Torah, thanks to Jerry. One Rosh HaShanah, when Jerry came to Mount Sinai hospital, and taking me to the roof, where he blew the shofar clear across Central Park, And the parties: celebrating our 25th, 36th, 50th and 54th wedding anniversaries with our community. How we love parties!
Martin: Joining Morning Minyan and being asked to lead services by Eugene Klein although at that time I knew very little about being a shaliah tzibbur. Learning Torah and Haftarah trope (as if for the first time) and discovering I could do it. The many years I have spent as the unofficial official gabbai of Morning Minyan and forging relationships with all the many who have come to say Kaddish or commemorate happy occasions—and all the breakfasts at the Metro diner afterward.
The first Shabbat I davened in the Sanctuary, for 1979 cantorial festival, there were more hazzanim on the bima than congregants in the kahal. I returned a few years later when the roving Minyan HaMakif settled into the upper Hirsch Hall lobby, joining the Chapel Minyan, Minyan M’at and the West Side Minyan in efforts to revitalize our shul.
Today, when I enter Ansche Chesed on Shabbat (pre-COVID-19), I see smiling faces and hear melodic voices of hundreds of members and visitors who fill the building with tfilla, study, and celebration. Being part of that transformation has been a cornerstone of my life for four decades. I can still tap into feeling my soul warmed on a cold 2004 December night as maestro Itzhak Perlman made beautiful music in our newly restored Sanctuary. How joyful and proud we all were to reclaim and rededicate our magnificent space!
I have been at home davening on nearly every floor in our shul, whether in the Sanctuary, or most often with Minyan Ma’t as it moved from the second floor to the sixth, and eventually to its current makom tfilla on five. And, of course, our wonderful roof-top sukkah, is filled with special memories.
AC is the place I’ve come most of my adult life to celebrate and to grieve in the context of Jewish community. I love that our shul is a place where we strive to turn divre chol, the mundane, into divre kodesh, the holy. I love that I come here to feel divine sparks, and to pick up organic produce. I love learning here with kindred spirits and teachers who engage my mind, heart and soul. I love joining with friends to help change our world through deeds of hesed/loving kindness.
And now, I love that our community is coming together anew to transform our century-old building into a wonderfully open and welcoming space that will allow us, and those who follow, to make meaningful connections for the next 100 years.
In 1988 my wife Jean and I first attended Ansche Chesed to participate in a Learners Minyan led by Rabbi Rachel Cowan. As an interfaith couple this became an ideal support for us and a place to grow and learn. Rachel helped us to understand the Shabbat service as well as the meaning of Jewish life and traditions. She guided us in learning to daven We made friends. Rachel invited us to her home on Friday nights to experience the joy of welcoming in the Sabbath. After four years we found the courage to go "upstairs": from the chapel to the sanctuary. Also that year my daughters converted to Judaism. We chose Hebrew names: Elana for Eliza and Shoshanna for Suzannah and shortly after Jean converted. Rachel and eventually the entire community of Ansche Chesed helped to create a Jewsih family.
We moved to the west side in 1986, the year before our older daughter’s bat mitzvah. One week after the bat mitzvah, we set out on what we thought would be a series of shul-shopping visits. Our first stop was Minyan M’at and we went no further: we felt at home immediately. Over the years, we have come to feel that the larger Ansche Chesed community provides us all with support and comfort. We are deeply grateful for the community we share.
Ansche Chesed changed my life. Before I joined Ansche Chesed I felt depressed and hopeless. My marriage had failed, I could not hold a job and I had failed the bar exam a few times. I began to pray. I joined Ansche Chesed and found a caring community. I developed a love for God, Torah and Israel. I started to give D’vri Torah and learned to leyn.
I felt better. I returned to school and got a Master’s Degree. I was able to work. With support from lawyers in the shul I took and passed the New York bar exam and became a lawyer.
In 1978, as my spouse’s doctoral studies at MIT were coming to an end, we had decisions to make: What next, and where? Sam and I owned a house in a leafy suburb of Boston, so staying on would have been easy. What we lacked was a deeply satisfying tie to a Jewish community. Friends had told us about the West Side Minyan and about the vitality of the Jewish community on the Upper West Side, so we decided to check it out. From our first visit, we felt at home.
At the time, Ansche Chesed was struggling. When AC reached out to the WSM, proposing that we join forces, I was skeptical, but Sam jumped right in. He played an important role not only in drafting the new by-laws but also in helping people with divergent perspectives and priorities to really hear each other. Eventually, I, too, served on the Board and on several committees. I am especially proud of having helped AC revise its mission statement and membership forms so that they’d be more inclusive of and welcoming to LGBT people.
For my family, AC has been a home away from home. Our son Noah’s bris and bar mitzvah ceremonies took place there, as did the observance of shloshim for Sam and the Shabbat afternoon celebration of my father’s 90th birthday. I love doing tashlikh with AC, and I can hardly wait to see everyone again down by the river, once there’s a cure and a vaccine for COVID-19. Jewish practice still works for me as a path to mindful living. My discomfort with prayer, however, has grown in recent years, distancing me from that side of congregational life. I’d be delighted if AC were to lend its support and collective imagination to a Shabbat morning alternative to davening. But even if that never happens, I expect to remain a member, because AC still feels like family.
When I first came to Ansche Chesed in 1982, it was a place of audacious experiments. Everything Jewish was being re-thought-through down to its core. Every holiday was an opportunity to rethink what that holiday was at its innermost core and how to create an experience that would tap into that essence. There were some older folks around, but the sparkle and magic were taking place mostly within a young place.
Ansche Chesed had the energy of so many social experiments that were taking place during that time. It was heady but had some of the feel of the kinds of wonderful exciting programs one develops in summer camp or in a youth group. We were not yet a real shul. We were serious but it had the glow of utopian unreality. We joined in pot-luck meals, we celebrated engagements and weddings and the births of children together — all the fun parts of being part of a Jewish community. I did not know if we were a long-term sustainable operation. Perhaps we were like the food co-ops, or baby-sitting co-ops, or hippie farming groups, that had a lovely run and then petered out.
The community still felt that way to me until the funeral of Baruch Bokser. He died far too young. As Ann, his widow, walked out of the funeral in the sanctuary carrying both her boys, I looked around the completely full room. I looked at people I was close to and people I had a more peripheral relationship with. I realized that many of the people who were in the sanctuary that day would likely, someday, be at my own funeral. I realized that we were capable not only of the easy parts of being a community but that we could also stand together with one another, accompanying one another for the difficult parts of life.
On one hand, I have always loved old buildings and old architecture, and I was a small participant in the drama that ultimately led to the synagogue’s revitalization. Almost 40 years ago, to make sure that this marvelous Ansche Chesed would not be sold to developers and demolished, the dwindling congregation opened its doors and welcomed in the then-alternative minyanim and other young people in the neighborhood, while allowing them to maintain their own flavor of practice and their own independence. This gracious and visionary effort on the part of the older community resulted in a stupendously successful act of preservation, which to me has always felt tremendously rewarding and gratifying.
And of course, since then, Ansche Chesed has been the main location for so many of my life’s high points and meaningful passages: my wife and I announced our engagement here, our children were named here, they became b’nei mitzvah here, and my daughter was even married here. My father’s funeral took place in the sanctuary and my wife’s 50th birthday was celebrated on the roof. Important times.
And the people. Most of my friends in New York are here at Ansche Chesed, and coming to shul gives me the chance to see them regularly, without making any special effort. It’s just part of the week, but a particularly important part.
But most of all, Ansche Chesed has helped me to hold onto a part of myself. Though I once studied literature and the great ideas of the humanities, the demands of making a living and supporting a family sent me into far more prosaic realms. Yet every Sabbath and holiday, here at Ansche Chesed, I could come study Torah, think loftier thoughts, and on occasion even share my ideas. And that has helped me keep in touch with a part of myself that I would be very sorry to lose.
We have been part of the Ansche Chesed for almost 40 years!
We catered our first event ever at the synagogue in the newly refurbished Hirsch Hall; taught in the Havurah School; we hosted our sons' bnei mitzvah; we have been part of minyan ma'at, the morning minyan, and Jeremy's talmud class.
Thank you to everyone for creating and supporting this wonderful community.
To write a tribute that does not sound like a retirement party piece is a challenge. Sheer longevity is not enough of a marker for worthiness. The quality of the journey is what counts for me and my sense of belonging to the AC collective. It was not always so.
No one thing led me to AC in the 1980s. Like so many “counter-culture” boomers, I was searching for my roots in new ways while also wanting a place for my sons to have the same warm kahal feeling I had growing up, and a Jewish education. It had to be non-patriarchal, welcoming, and diverse, as our younger son Zach has special needs.
You see, I was a Jewish yogi when the word “yoga” conjured up some kind of alien fire mysticism. I finally stumbled across Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and Aryeh Kaplan’s book, Jewish Meditation, and also wanted to connect more formally with Judaism. My older son Ezra was a Heschel student, and would soon be a bar mitzvah; we needed a shul. I had to convince Sheldon, who back then, was “shul shy,” not the “shul guy” you may know today. We had friends at AC, and it was an easy choice, especially since the Havurah School in the building had opened its arms, providing helpers (now called “shadows”) for Zach. I can never thank Jerry Raik, Ellen Tucker, Linda Shriner Cahn, and Dawn Kellman enough for their warm embrace and the school’s natural inclusivity.
After our sons’ meaningful bar mitzvahs at AC, I thought I could relax and attend services more sporadically. Then 9/11 happened. New York City and the AC community were undergoing profound changes, including having our new rabbi. I found my shy outsider status challenged when Rabbi Jeremy invited me and other women who never had a bat mitzvah to have one together. I thought, “No way, I can’t chant tropes as musically as Zach, or recite the Hebrew as well as Ezra and Sheldon. What’s the point?” And being female, plumbing the intricate depths of the Torah had not been part of my yeshiva background. Then I looked at the parsha proposed by the Rabbi, B’ha-alot’kha: Miriam’s story, how she had prophetic powers only to be given the secondary status of a woman, a sister, how she slipped up in her insensitive comments about Zipporah. Miriam’s punishment was a week in exile, practicing austerities: a kind of ancient yoga retreat. “That’s me,” I thought (even though my Hebrew name was Zipporah). I didn’t have leprosy or a brother Moses, but I was committed to the path of yoga to bring about internal healing as well as outer harmony. Pondering Miriam‘s time out in the wilderness as I studied with Rabbi Jeremy and learned to leyn with Chazzan Natasha for my bat mitzvah renewed my sense of belonging to the congregation. When the door opened a crack, I entered it emboldened.
These days, I find ways to rejoin anew and recommit, even when I feel like pushing the door open is too hard. I set simple goals, some combination of spiritual values and social action that might benefit others, like welcoming a stranger, or talking to at least two people I don’t know at kiddush. I’ve worked on some family programs with Rabbi Yael and occasional meditation
programs. Attending the Shabbat Torah study class in sacred company has helped me overcome gaps in my knowledge. Weekly Shabbat services set the tone and rhythm for my week.
Milestone events at AC sparkle in my memory: Ezra and Lauren’s aufruf in 2011, our grandson Micah’s first Purim with us, and exactly two years ago, a baby naming for our granddaughter Eden Rose. Sadly, more recently, we held the first ever AC Zoom Shiva. It was for my mother, who had one of the last gravesite funerals in which mourners could still show up. (She also had her first ever aliyah at my bat mitzvah). During these unmoored times, AC (After Corona; Ansche Chesed) helps anchor my week and I am grateful. May we all find a foothold into its doorways, even if for now, they open onto a Zoom screen full of familiar faces.
I pray the pandemic ends soon,
peace is restored to our streets,
justice prevails in this land,
and we can reclaim our seats,
together in one place,
When I was an undergraduate, I took a course in Asian Civilization at Columbia, around the same time I was taking a class in the Theology of Chasidism at JTS. While the cultural and theological trappings were different, a lot of the mystical teachings resonated with one another. At least to me.
For years after that, I was spending more time at ashrams than in shul. And that was the case when our family first arrived at Ansche Chesed. So for a long time, those two branches of our spiritual life felt separate – if not at odds.
The turning point for me was when my mother died in 1998 and I went to morning minyan to say kaddish. One morning, miraculously on time, someone asked me: “Can you daven?” – I said yes – so I led the service. And then I was asked: “Can you read Torah?” And I said yes.
Soon I was davening and leyning torah not just at morning minyan but also on Shabbat – and the High Holidays – and coming to shul every Shabbat.
At some point, Sheila and I began leading afternoon meditation on
Yom Kippur. Plus an occasional contemplative Kabbalat Shabbat.
Over the past few months, we’ve been part of a team offering weekly virtual meditation on Jewish themes to the Ansche Chesed community. The delivery system has been virtual, but the meditation is real. As are its uplifting effects.
So our two spiritual paths are now one.
We have been part of the Ansche Chesed for almost 40 years!
We tease that we are a mixed marriage, Jon coming from a Yiddish/secular tradition and Lynn coming from a conservative tradition.
We merge both traditions in our lives and in our raising our children, Julia and Aidan, and Anche Chesed has always respected all part of that combination. There is a soul to AC, rather than a set of rules housed in a building. So, even though we don't attend frequently, we feel spiritually connected and are happy to give support. We believe in tikkun olam, and supporting Ansche Chesed is an act of lovingkindness.
I have been blessed to call Ansche Chesed my spiritual home for "double chai" years. My membership has brought me so many important friendships, has comforted me in times of stress and sadness, has provided me the Jewish education my parents could not and has been a second home to me and also to my sons for holidays, life cycle events, tzedakah opportunities and more. While it is almost impossible to highlight one of the millions of memories from my time here, I must mention the years my youngest son spent under the loving care of Jerry Raik and Ellen Tucker at the Havurah School. Denied a Jewish education in every other institution we appealed to because of the severity of his learning difficulties, Jerry and Ellen welcomed Yoni with open arms, patience, encouragement, understanding, and an abundance of love. That served as a portal for his Jewish involvement outside the home and I will forever be grateful for that gift.
Originally, we had been regular shul-goers elsewhere. We had good friends there; the services were lovely and the sermons highly intelligent. However, the Rabbi fundamentally failed to embody the leadership and spiritual qualities — the characteristics of being a mensch — that we are currently blessed with in Rabbi Jeremy, and we were forced to look elsewhere. My colleague and dear friend, Beth Levine, of blessed memory, invited us to join her at the West Side Minyan. Everyone there was lovely and welcoming. Truth be told, I was (wrongfully) intimidated by the command of Jewish knowledge and experience that most of the minyanim had (and seemed to take for granted) and so I explored the diverse and beautiful minyanim that make up Anche Chesed, including Minyan M’at. And while I ultimately found that the best place for me to learn and grow my Jewish practice was the "chapel minyan” — now the "sanctuary minyan”, I have always marveled at the beautiful coexistence and success of three different minyanim that come together as a whole. I have been home here ever since and look forward to celebrating this second home with all Ansche Chesed members for years to come--until 120!
We joined Ansche Chesed around 1975 at the urging of Rabbi Wolfe Kelman a/h, a wonderful man who was good to us and many, many other people. Bill was soon on the board when they were struggling to create a synagogue of several disparate groups, and he served as treasurer when the kitty was frequently empty. The building was mostly empty; even on Rosh HaShana there were almost no children to be seen or heard. First we joined the West Side Minyan, where we especially enjoyed shabbat lunches with the few other young families. After a few years, we moved to the Main Sanctuary because we felt the need for a congregation with a range of ages, including old people, like the synagogues we grew up in. First we met in the chapel. Our son’s bar mitzvah took place in the sanctuary in 1992, but under a net to protect the congregation from plaster falling from the ceiling. Our daughter’s bat mitzvah took place two years after. A year or two later, we joined friends at Minyan M’at, a community that has fed, instructed, entertained, and taken care of us ever since. Our daughter and son-in-law celebrated their ufruf there and are also members now; the Minyan are very kind to our three noisy grandchildren. We are grateful to have a morning minyan available, though we don’t support it enough, and to have Rabbi Kalmanofsky,
David joined the shul with his parents as a teenager in the 1970s, and remembers davening with Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, Herta Shriner, and Paul and Rachel Cowan in the chapel. Henry Schiff was in his class in elementary school. What is now Hirsch Hall was usually flooded. When we moved back to the neighborhood as a young couple, we found our niche at Ansche Chesed again, and raised our daughters here as a sort of extended family. Shul was the first place our kids walked home from alone, and they, like we, have lifelong shul friends. From our years at Yaldaynu and Discovery, through semachot and funerals, our kids have grown up in the building and the community. Over the years many actual relatives have been here with us, blurring the line between neighbors and family even more. We’re so glad to be a part of this ongoing, loving circle of friends.
We became members of AC about 40 years ago at the urging of Rabbi Wolfe Kelman, a colleague of Elaine’s at JTS. Our sons were then teenagers. We joined the Chapel Minyan, a small congregation of old and young members interested in developing participatory services. We were drawn to its intimacy, warmth and sincerity. We moved with that minyan to the sanctuary after it was repaired and restored and the minyan became too large for the chapel. Several years later we moved to Minyan M’at to join our son David and daughter-in-law Elisheva.
Every Shabbat we were privileged to daven with the Minyan, listen to interesting drashot, share kiddush -- and best of all we could watch our children and three granddaughters do the same. What a pleasure to see the girls daven, sing and read Torah as they grew up!
We have always felt at home in all of the AC services and programs we attended. We have friends in both Minyan M’at and the Sanctuary Minyan. We admire the programs and leadership of Rabbi Kalmanofsky and Hazzan Hirschhorn and the steady, guiding hand of Josh Hanft. We feel particularly happy when all the AC minyanim join together for kiddush or share synagogue-wide programs. We were delighted when all minyanim participated in the Bat Mitzvah services and celebrations of our granddaughters.
Both of us served on the AC Board at different times and Ron was AC Treasurer, chief negotiator of licenses with school tenants, and a long-time member of the AC Finance Committee. We are grateful for all we have gained from AC and wish it many more years of service to its members as well as to the larger community.
When we moved into the neighborhood in 1969, Ansche Chesed was languishing. The mostly German-Jewish congregation had dwindled to the point where they were seriously considering closing and selling the property to a real-estate developer. They even tried to give the building to JTS, but JTS wouldn’t take it, saying they couldn’t afford the upkeep. The building was crumbling.
Meanwhile, the havurah counterculture had spawned a number of groups, including the West Side Minyan. We were davening regularly in each other’s homes, but as more and more showed up each shabbes, we had to look for space we could rent. At first they were reluctant, but we convinced the remaining members of the AC Sisterhood to allow us to use their room on the 5th floor. They were puzzled as to why we didn’t want to daven downstairs with them. Finally, one of the oldest Sisterhood members said: “Young Jews want to meet to daven. How can we refuse?” Soon, the room was filled to overflowing each shabbes.
The relationship of the West Side Minyan with the AC regulars, while cordial, was strained.
Finally, a financial crisis that threatened the continued viability of the shul was the turning point. To help the schul (but also out of self-interest – if the shul closed we were homeless again), most of the WSM members joined the shul en masse, paid our dues and made contributions. The crisis passed.
Today, AC is a thriving community with visionary professional leadership, although it still hosts several semi-independent davening groups. Thanks to that leadership, these groups are not merely renters of space; they are integrated well into the wider, warm AC community.
We were neighbors, living next door at 838 West End Avenue. Our oldest child, Daniel, started going to Morningside Montessori School when Sara was an infant. We were in the Synagogue five days a week and became aware of the aging and dwindling congregation facing the burden of a large and deteriorating building. At about that time we also became aware of the activities of a group of young and energetic neighborhood Jews including Paul Cowan who had agreed with the elders to plant a new community in the building. We were and remain secular Jews, non-believers. By the time Daniel was five we had three children and faced the problem of how to raise our children with a Jewish identity without the trappings of ritual practice and beliefs that made us uncomfortable. More than that, we were active parents at Morningside. Jeff was the long-time chairman of the board at the school and joked that, because he wrote the Morningside rent checks, he was the largest contributor to Ansche Chesed.
Neither of us were looking for a Jewish connection as such. Arlene had been raised attending Sunday School at a Reform Synagogue in Newark. Jeffrey grew up in Upstate New York. His father’s only religion was the International Working Class while his mother was a socialist with vague cultural Jewish connections. We had met through the Civil Rights Movement and our only mutual Jewish Connection was that since 1965 we held an annual Freedom Seder, including one attended by the Rabbi at Columbia, linking traditional elements from the Manischewitz seder service with our own additions from the ongoing struggle and freedom struggles from the past. We were certainly not shul-shopping, but were interested in developing some sort of Jewish identity for our children.
We joined Ansche Chesed because we decided that if we wanted the community to survive and grow, then we had to participate. But really, we joined because when Daniel was five, he began to go once a week to the Havurah School. We joined Ansche Chesed largely because of Jerry Raik and his avowedly non- doctrinal, non-dogmatic weekly sessions of Jewish ethics through art and story-telling. Jerry’s commitment to an egalitarian, open, mutually supportive, and joyful institution continues to inspire us. Ultimately, Jeff became Chair of the Social Action Committee initiating the High Holiday food drives and served two terms on the Board. Our three children all had their bar and bat mitzvahs here with Jerry’s tutelage, and Daniel ultimately completed the traditional Bar Mitzvah blessing by coming to the Chuppah at Ansche Chesed, with Jerry co -officiating at his wedding. We have always felt welcome at Ansche Chesed. Through many changes it has continued to be a place that welcomes a diversity of practice (or, in our case non-practice). Importantly it welcomes people regardless of wardrobe, the size of checkbook, or by imposed standards of required practice in order to be considered Jewish enough to be a member of the community. We still go our own way. This past April, we hosted on Zoom our 55th Annual Freedom Seder. (The cooking for only two of us was a lot easier.) Though we have lived downtown since 2001, and the children are now adults with children of their own, Ansche Chesed remains our connection to the institutionalized Jewish community. Thank you.
First, I want to congratulate my fellow honorees on this celebration of our constancy in the Ansche Chesed community. (Are we alta cockers yet? Do we get first dibs in the interminable line for joint kiddush?)
I joined Minyan M’at in 1988 while a student at Columbia law School. As a Brookline, MA transplant, I was a newcomer not only to the Upper West Side but to the NYC Jewish scene generally. Minyan M’at was the only Jewish community on my wish list, really, even before I arrived. Classmates at Harvard Hillel had described it as the logical progression from the welcoming egalitarian community that I had enjoyed at college. I was looking forward to “belonging” somewhere in my new hometown. And Minyan M’at fulfilled that need. Not only did I build friendships and a feeling of community within M’at, but I found myself participating in a calendar of services, Jewish holidays, shabbat meals and seasonal events that I had not known or observed previously. This participation was, and continues to be, a great source of comfort and happiness to me and for which I am truly grateful.
Back then, in the late ‘80’s, the minyan’s relationship with Ansche Chesed was, well, complicated. I thought of myself principally as a member of M’at for a long while. I could not imagine back then that M’at would relocate from the sixth to the fifth floor and become integral to communal life at Asche Chesed. The arrival of Rabbi Kalmanofsky was also transformative for all of us. Over the years, especially when my children were young (and malleable), communal life at Ansche Chesed played a very meaningful role in my family’s life and afforded us countless formative experiences -- religious, cultural, intellectual and social. So while I may have joined a small community 32 years ago, for the majority of those years I have enjoyed being a part of the larger Ansche Chesed community.
In closing, I wish to say two more things. First, I hope for the continued strength and vitality of Ansche Chesed as a physical place and a community of wonderful people. We need to cultivate the ideal of a People of Kindness now more than ever. Second, to state the obvious, it is almost perverse to celebrate our shared communal life amid a pandemic that has forced us all into physical isolation. What we have lost (temporarily), however, has focused our attention on what we had to lose. For now, we will muddle through bravely in our virtual and masked alternative reality. But I look forward to the day when we are truly together again at Ansche Chesed. It can’t come soon enough.
It is almost exactly 40 years ago that we made our way to Ansche Chesed. At the time we had an almost 3 ½ year old and a newborn. As our friend Jerry says ‘Every marriage is a mixed marriage’ and in terms of Judaism so was ours. I came from a secular, culturally Jewish family and was what some call a red diaper baby. My jewish roots were a bit in the Yiddish shule world and then in Hashomer Hatzair. Spending a year in Israel in Jerusalem and then kibbutz, that culminated with the 6 Day War cemented that connection. Alan came from a more traditionally jewish family, one strongly connected to Israel. His grandmother made aliyah at age 75!. Israel was a place of common ground.
While pregnant with our first son, Josh, I happened to read Paul Cowan’s article about the Havurah School In the NYTMagazine.I remember saying to Alan that it sounded like a school I could be comfortable with. I knew some sort of Jewish education would be in our children’s future. I had no idea an appealing one was just down the street.
Then came the holidays 40 years ago. Alan found his way to Ansche Chesed’s sanctuary but didn’t love it. He met Elvin who told him about another service in the building. Alan found his way to the WS Minayn and we joined him for a bit. Over the next year we occasionally went to services, and some lunches. Eventually we joined the shul, a first for me! When Josh was 5 he started at that very Havurah School we had read about. Rachel Cown would see me waiting for pick up with Aaron and saw a ‘live one’, I helped with some programs and eventually the Hanukkah Arts Festival which became a substantial crafts fair along with all its other activities. Also, after doing some art projects with Josh’s class I became a teacher at the Havurah School where I still am today.
At some point we started going to the Chapel Minyan. Here we got to know some of AC’s oldtimers like the Shriners, the Lehmans and Mr. Ben Zaken. Alan served on the Finance Committee and was drafted as Treasure. Over the years we both served n the BoardThese were exciting times. The building was in an overall state of disrepair and for services there had to be a net over the Sanctuary seating to protect congreants from falling plaster.Everyone pitched in with both time and money. There was noone to do it for us.
There are many memorable moments from all these years. Of course Josh and Aaron’s bnei mitzvah in the Sanctuary is on the top. Alan doing his haftarah for his 40th birthday is now a long ago memory. Lleyning for the first time (Tsav #7) in the Chapel now over 30 years ago was something I never would have envisioned for myself. From the HAF there are many memories...rearranging the table set up late at night only to go back to the original plan; meeting amazing artists and difficult ones, etc. It was also a chance to meet so many members of the AC community. Today it is some of the friendships that formed over those years that are to this day mainstays in our lives!
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Writing our Ansche Chesed story – where to start? We moved to the Upper Westside in 1987 drawn by our attraction to two institutions, one very new and one that was, shall we say, young at heart. Our son Josh was enrolled in his second year at the Heschel School (Rachel followed a year later) and we had heard for years from friends Deb and Sam Kayman about Ansche Chesed. We wanted a shul that gave us a community and not just a place to daven, and we found it at AC. We prized the 360 degree experience of a shul where a lot of our kids’ teachers also belonged (our kids may have had a different opinion) along with many other families from the school. The friendships we formed are ones we treasure to this day. The veteran members like the Shriners, the Hautzigs and Fanny Beiner gave a European ta’am that was warm and familiar, along with a nice sardonic twist. We were drawn to the participatory and egalitarian ethos and the davening. So that was then.
Through the years we’ve both served on the board and the committees, attended the classes and the events, love seeing our friends, have celebrated a lot and sometimes mourned, and have always felt the former a little more joyous and the latter a little less painful in the embrace of a community we love.
To all of our fellow honorees, we cannot begin to tell you how much we appreciate what you add to our community, and we look forward to all that is still to come.
We moved to 105th and West End in September 1989, a few months after the birth of our twins, Katie and Ben. We wanted to join a Conservative synagogue and knew about Ansche Chesed from Isa Aron, a friend who had been part of the Havurah that reinvigorated Ansche Chesed in the early 70’s. We immediately felt comfortable with AC’s ritual and inclusive, progressive values.
AC provided a happy home for our kids, starting with the two’s program and moving on to the Havurah School. I was drawn to the School because its arts-focused approach promised an experience that was inspiring and fun – very different from my own tedious Hebrew School education. Jerry Raik and Ellen Tucker delivered on that promise, providing loving and meaningful teaching over many years. Jerry prepared Ben and Katie for their B’nai Mitzvah and we were grateful both for his patience (only one of our kids actually wanted to go through with the event) and his help in creating and leading a ritual that worked for two very different children. The B’nai Mitzvah also provided us with the opportunity to meet with Jeremy, who had come to Ansche Chesed not long before. The kids were delighted with the new rabbi – their enthusiasm started with his earring, but really stemmed from the interesting ways he helped them think about their Torah portions.
Although our connection with the shul in recent years has been largely limited to High Holiday attendance, we never fail to be moved by Natasha’s beautiful voice and Jeremy’s warmth and elegant sermons – such rare combinations of erudition, humor, and relevance to the problem of trying to be a good person in the 21st century. I’ll never forget his sermon just after 9/11 on the nature of evil.
Thanks to all of the members of this special community.
IN THE BEGINNING: ThIs is how it all began in 1992 when I started a new chapter of my life when I moved from the "Diaspora of Queens" to an apartment two blocks from Ansche Chesed. I had met Yocheved Muffs briefly and had the privilege of Yochanan Muffs as a teacher at JTS. Yochanan z''l had been a Biblical scholar colleague of Frank Talmage z''l as well. So, I naturally joined their minyan at AC. The fifth floor was the meeting place and it was filled with many wonderful childlike artifacts filled with life, but I sadly didn't hear many Shabbat shaloms. BUT, fast forward to now: my activities have been joyfully sprinkled with Hebrew teaching of several groups of adults,; greeting and opening shifts at the men's shelter; a standing ovation at the kiddush to celebrate my retirement; and to fill the gap of interaction with children, I began the loving distribution of Israeli STICKERS to numerous generations of children who always seemed to grow a few inches from joy after receiving them; to awakening early on a Shabbat moorning inorder to attend our amazing, wonderful rabbi-Jeremy's rich classes of TORAH, and collecting the admission fee of BIG $5 for Scribblers' on the Roof every summer; and having an exciting effervescent and fun wedding celebration to bring Fred into the AC family where Mike Cohen's band provided the music and I wore a red dress, not white. So many memories through the 28 years, sadly too, some of the community are no longer here. Yet, so MANY lasting memories at Ansche Chesed community! THANK YOU and THANK GOD.
I came to AC in 1982 and even after moving to Riverdale, have kept my membership. My fondest memory is of my two children, Leora and Alex as kids, meeting their buddies on the 5th floor of Minyan M’at and running around. I've been privileged to teach, leyn, and serve on the M'at troika over the years. There's nothing quite like AC!
I have been an AC member since 1982, which by my count is closing in on 40 years, and I continue to be a member of Ansche Chesed, now on an out-of-town basis since I live in Riverdale, NY and don't travel on shabbat.
I married into AC. My ex-husband Allen Nadler z''l was among the 'young turks' who took over running Ansche Chesed from the very formal top-hat guys whose ranks at the time were shrinking every year. Allen managed to keep everyone on board (literally on the AC Board!) and working together during enormous transitions and the initial set of building renovations which were overseen by the architects Herman Sands z"l and Phyllis Sperling, also AC members at the time. The renovations were supervised day-to-day on behalf of AC by David Pollak. Allen raised most of the money for the renovation from his good friend Harold Hirsch, longstanding member of AC, and persuaded Harold to allow it to be named Hirsch Hall after Harold's parents.
In October, 1982 Allen and I were married at the first wedding to be held completely at AC, including both the ceremony and the reception. Arnie Eisen and Ace Leveen had been married at a ceremony at AC the previous winter, but held their reception elsewhere. Our ceremony took place in the gorgeous newly renovated sanctuary, but the renovation downstairs was not quite done for our wedding: the raw columns were covered by pale blue bed sheets in the social hall, and Allen donated the adjacent kitchen 'anonymously' so that there could be food at our reception. Three hundred of our family and friends filled the space beyond capacity.
My identical twin daughters Susannah Rebecca Sharon Nadler and Reena Evelyn Sharon Nadler were named at AC in June1984 at the first ever Zeved Ha-Bat ["gift of a daughter"] ceremony at Ansche Chesed, a Sephardic custom that Allen learned about from colleagues at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, and which honored my mother's Sephardic heritage.
Twelve and a half years later Reena and Susannah were bat mitzvahed at AC, where they led the entire Torah service and gave a joint derash. To this day I am so proud of the way they 'owned' the bimah in a way only possible for girls raised within an egalitarian Jewish tradition. At their benot mitzvah my two girls recited every aliyah except for one that was recited by their talented tutor, Hazzan Deborah Togut, z"l in honor of her amazing work with my daughters.
The girls were guided in writing their derashot by Sarah Diamant, my close friend and, at that time, a graduate student at JTS. Years later, Sheryl Reich and I cooked up a successful shidduch between Sarah and Sheryl's brother Larry Reich.
My daughters' benot mitzvah was a joint celebration of all the AC minyanim, plus family and guests, totaling 800 people on that morning in Nov 1996. Allen was President of AC at the time and always insisted that he was "president of ALL the people!" Every shabbat he would spend some time at each of the five separate minyanim that met at Ansche Chesed, and he managed the competing constituencies with amazing skill. All 5 of AC's minyanim agreed to come together in the sanctuary for a joint service on the morning of our daughters' milestone.
The parshah was Chaye Sarah, and it was the 40th anniversary of their father's bar mitzvah (which had not been at AC). Allen insisted on that date in November not just on account of this anniversary; the girls' birthday is June 9th, and at that time the AC sanctuary was not air conditioned. November seemed a more judicious time than June for a huge gathering, for everyone's comfort!
Some of my rabbinical students from JTS came for the event, and stayed for the luncheon in Hirsch Hall. They joined the a` capella band singing Hebrew songs so that there could be Israeli dancing after the meal.
Ansche Chesed was there for our family from birth to death. My dad, Gabriel Sharon, was among the first to be prepared for burial by the brand new Ansche Chesed Hevre Kadisha in June, 1996. My mother, Rebecca Menaged Sharon, had her funeral service in the sanctuary at AC on the 8th day of Chanukah 6 1/2 years earlier in 1989, and on her 25th Yahrzeit I came down from Riverdale especially to say kaddish at AC's morning minyan. I was so deeply moved that there were TWO PEOPLE there that morning who STILL REMEMBERED my mother from AC events like Purim, which my parents attended every year that my kids were little.
For many years at Purim Allen and I would split the recitation of chapter 5 of the Megillah reading at Minyan M'at. Allen's costume was invariably minimal, most often a tiny stick-on earring on one ear. The kids wore more elaborate costumes and loved the annual AC Purim Parade.
Even before they were born my kids showed up for AC's Purim celebration. Ann Appelbaum and I were both pregnant during Purim 1984. That year there was a raucous celebration in the sanctuary. For our 'costumes' Ann and I wore identical maternity dresses with big red bows in our hair, and told everyone we were costumed as triplets (three babies in utero, two moms in identical dresses....you get it, right?).
So very glad we could be there during that amazing time at Ansche Chesed. Chazak, chazak, ve-nitchazek.
I lived within three blocks of Ansche Chesed for a few years before I attended a service there. Word was that it was a dying synagogue, with only a small number of members. I could not imagine why I would want to be involved in a synagogue with no future (my parents’ synagogue was already headed that way). I had been in the building once, to attend the first West Side Minyan service (not what I was looking for then). I started hearing that there were some new things happening at AC.
One Yom Tov, I passed AC on my way to a synagogue further downtown. I was very late. I realized that I would be less late if I stopped and went into AC instead. The congregation was certainly small, but there were both old and young people. The service was pleasant and familiar. At the end of the service, I saw Sharry Pollock together with her husband, David. I had known Sharry from when I was an undergraduate at JTS. She said they were members. Sharry told me about David’s involvement and where AC was going. It was growing with new, young members. The new people were already becoming (or maybe being coerced into being) part of the governance of AC. They were not merely being tolerated as outsiders. Sharry was so enthusiastic that I tried AC again. I joined because it was warm and welcoming. There was a certain excitement. AC seemed very much alive.
As the High Holidays approached, a letter from the shul came in the mail. We were given a choice of seats – either the sanctuary with Cantor Bloch and a rabbi hired for the holidays, or a service in the chapel with Michael Strassfeld leading. The letter said the chapel service would be more participatory and innovative. We knew Michael only from the Jewish catalogs. Although it made us nervous to try the more intimate service, we did. Nos and I were blown away. It was like nothing we had experienced at a synagogue before. There were niggunim. Everyone sang. Many congregants were involved, including in leadership roles. Michael’s davening and ruach were infectious. Now it was really the place I wanted to be. I volunteered for everything. Before the year was up, I was asked to join the Board.
Since then, AC quickly grew to be our home. We loved being in a place where all the members were in charge of everything. We loved that everyone had an opportunity to lead the service or give the d’var torah. We appreciated everyone’s effort. We knew who did what well, who was more moving, or taught better, but all were welcomed because these were our friends and fellow congregants.
When our son, Jacob, was born, we were overwhelmed by the stresses and changes of having a new baby in our family. AC came through for us. People brought food, visited, helped with wanted (and sometimes not so wanted) advice. I attended a group at AC, led by Arlene Eisenberg, with other new mothers and our babies. The help and support of Arlene and the other mothers gave me more confidence that we were okay. Later, the AC children’s service, led by Ilana Sassower, gave all of us another type of home. Shabbat morning, you would find us there. It served Jacob well. He loved mastering all that Ilana was doing. Also, as Nos says, “Where else do you get Torah with pictures?”
I remember being moved by the community’s support when Nos and I lost our parents. As I said later when asked to say something about AC for its new website – AC does death well. One hopes every synagogue will celebrate smachot together, like britot, baby namings, bnei mitzvah, aufrufs, and weddings, and of course Ansche Chesed excels at that. However, at AC, we especially rally with spiritual and practical support when one is a mourner. From doing shmira (staying with the deceased’s body), performing tahara (ritually preparing the body for burial), to attending funerals, paying shiva calls, providing food to the bereaved, a minyan in the home to be able to say kaddish, siddurim and even chairs for mourners, we embrace one another in times of need.
As we grew, so did AC. This community has nurtured us and given us the spiritual home we never knew we needed. Thank you for an amazing forty years.
One of my first Ansche Chesed memories is of going to the Chanukah Arts Festival about forty years ago. While there, I buttonholed Rachel Cowan, who was the Program Director, and told her the West End Avenue doors should have a sign telling people that the Festival entrance was around the corner on 100th Street. Rachel said, “Good idea. Go make one.” I was totally charmed by that do-it-yourself approach.
In the years since, we davened on the sixth floor, fifth floor, fourth floor, in the Chapel, Sanctuary, Upper Hirsch Hall Lobby, and Hirsch Hall. We davened with both Rabbi Strassfeld and Rabbi Kalmanofsky. We have been led in prayer by countless lay people and one amazing Hazzan. We have heard d’rashot from erudite rabbis and 12-year old batei mitzvah. We learned Torah from every one of them.
Our son, Jacob, went to Purple Circle and to Yaldeynu. Iris and I went to countless lectures, dinners, s’machot, meetings, fund-raisers, and concerts. We participated in solemn hoshanot and wacky megillah readings. We have been challenged by the opportunity to lead davening, give divrel torah, serve in leadership roles, and clean up after Kiddush. It’s been a wild and gratifying ride.
We have made wonderful friends and had the support of the AC community when we lost our parents. We have been impressed by the wisdom and compassion of our clergy, as well as the breathtaking brilliance of our fellow AC congregants.
Having davened with the Chapel Minyan, Sanctuary Minyan, the Sanctuary Service, Minyan M’at, Minyan Rimonim and the West Side Minyan, we eventually chose to spend most of our time with the latter two groups because they met our need for the greatest lay participation.
Finally, when people ask what we like about Ansche Chesed, I answer, “Where else can you shul-shop on the elevator?”
Peter and I first came to Ansche Chesed for High Holiday services with the New York Havurah, of which we were fellow travelers. We were living in Chelsea when our first daughter, Yona, was born and we decided to investigate synagogues closer to home. Upon inquiring at the local synagogue about high holiday tickets and then Shul membership, I was informed that my husband would join the synagogue and I could join the sisterhood. With my tiny daughter in arms I stormed out and we decided that, despite the geographic inconvenience, Ansche Chesed would be our place. I had no idea then how true that would be. Although for a number of years we bounced around within the shul, children’s services became the first place I cemented my community and Ansche Chesed became our children’s “neighborhood.” It was the first place they had the freedom to wander alone and know they were safe. Many a Shabbat they wandered off and we didn’t give it much thought. One time Sharon Strassfield traveled through the building carrying Yona and crying out, “who are the parents?” What was important was we and they knew that they were safe and loved within their community and that remains true. In fact during this pandemic in search of a thermometer for her feverish baby Yona knew that a posting on the Minyan M'at listserv might solve the problem and she was right. Ansche Chesed is where we named our babies, celebrated their Bnai Mitzvoth, celebrated their Aufruf’s and then named their babies. Jeremy and this community also helped us mourn our parents. As we decided almost 35 years ago, it is our place.
For more than 20 years, Ansche Chesed has been my point of connection. It connects me to a religious tradition and a body of literature and thought that had been closed to me before I arrived here. It connects me to the wider contemporary Jewish world through programming that gives me repeated opportunities to learn from scholars and thinkers whom I would not encounter anywhere else. Ansche Chesed is the nodal point of my connection to community. It is the place where I have celebrated and mourned, where I know that no matter what life throws at me I will find friends who will dance with me or put an arm around my shoulder.
Ansche Chesed has been our home since 1982 (for Burt) and 1995 (for Sandy). Our kids had their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, Sandy her adult Bat Mitzvah, our aufruf, and celebrated the joys of anniversaries and kiddushes shared. We mourned my mom’s death, recovered from surgery (we each had our turns), attended Friday minyan, said kaddish, and completed studying, reading, and writing many Jewish books. Ansche Chesed is well named. We love our sacred congregation.
In 1983, when we moved from the staid upper east side to the wild upper west side with our newborn, Matthew, we decided we needed a shul and our friend, Deb Kayman, suggested Ansche Chesed and the West Side Minyan. Our first Rosh Hashana, in Hirsch Hall, was a revelation: joyful davening and singing unlike any we had experienced. We started davening with the West Side Minyan, which met on the 5th floor and featured a playground. We became part of a Shabbat afternoon lunch group of young parents with same age children; it was a continuing play date for the kids and welcome camaraderie for the parents.
We migrated to the Sanctuary, where both of our children, Matthew and Ariel (members themselves) had their b’nai mitzvot. By that point, through leadership roles in the Hanukkah Arts Festival, the clothing closet for newly arrived Russian emigres, the membership committee, High Holiday Committee, Sanctuary Minyan, etc., etc., we knew everyone and considered everyone a friend. At both b’nai mitzvot, Melinda memorably declared Ansche Chesed the extension of our own home it had in fact become and invited everyone to lunch.
Melinda has been chair of the High Holiday committee since the death of our beloved, and dearly missed, chair, Sam Schiff. One of her great memories is when Sam called to invite her onto the Board and she replied ‘Me? Sam, do you know who you’re talking to?’ That led to many years on the Board, service as vice-president, and as chair of both the farewell dinner for Michael Strassfeld and the welcome dinner for Jeremy Kalmanofsky.
Ron is more interested in our glorious Jewish invention, Kiddush.
We have made many lifelong friends at Ansche Chesed. Even though we often daven with the Great Barrington Library Minyan, where many Ansche Chesed friends also daven, we always consider Ansche Chesed our home.