Established in 1837 by Polish immigrants, Shaare Zedek is the third oldest synagogue in New York City. Our long and illustrious history through the early 1960s has been catalogued in former member Jacob Monsky's (z"l) book Within the Gates, written on the occasion of the community's 125th anniversary. It is currently out of print but available through the synagogue.
The congregation initially met at 42 Water Street in downtown Manhattan, then rented space at 472 Pearl Street in the historical Lower East Side. In 1849, Shaare Zedek leased two plots of land from Congregation Ansche Chesed at 38 Henry Street, just a few blocks away. At that site, the community built a mikveh and a school that taught both secular and religious studies.
In 1840, the congregation purchased land for burials at 88th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, but later sold that plot and transferred all the graves to a larger cemetery in Bayside, Queens, which had been purchased in the late 1840s and was expanded in the 1880s. According to Monsky, "for a great number of years, the congregation was readily serving the numerous Jewish Chevrahs and newly organized Synagogues and societies with cemetery plottage..." (pg. 59).
During the 1880s, as large waves of Jews arrived from Eastern Europe in the wake of pogroms, Shaare Zedek enlarged its building at Henry Street by purchasing the lot next door. Around the same time, there was a new trend for Jews to settle uptown, so in 1899 -- and in response to internal conflict -- a second building was acquired in Harlem for a "splinter group" at 25 W. 118th Street. However, as the years passed, the Henry Street site became very crowded, so in 1911 the community ratified the sale of that building to the former Congregation Mishkan Israel Anshe Suwalk. Yet they did not find a suitable building to purchase as a replacement and determined to consolidate communities at the now-established Harlem location in 1914.
While it is reported that the merger between the two congregations was well received, compromises were made, as the Harlem shul seated men and women side-by-side. Yet again, the building could only accommodate 600 worshippers and the changing demographics of Harlem was not looked upon kindly by the community. In 1921, Shaare Zedek purchased its current site at West 93rd Street for $100,000, and the Harlem building was sold to Congregation Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Yagustover.
Building the 93rd street synagogue
Our current building was designed by architects Sommerfeld and Steckler. Monsky writes, "The members were of the opinion to build a five-story structure accommodating a Hebrew School with a 200 seat capacity, a banquet hall, gymnasium and water pool. The cost of construction was estimated to be a $775,000 program. Nevertheless, the arguments and frustrations were many and continuous before the final decision was arrived at to build a $300,000 edifice without further delay" (pg. 89). The new synagogue was dedicated on April 15, 1923, and in 1944 the congregation paid off the mortgage.
More recent archival material and historical information have yet to be documented by the community.