Collapsed Ceilings Lead to Big Mitzvah

After Shared Disaster, Beth Elohim Gives $15,000 to Church

Helping Hands: Rabbis Andy Bachman and Shira Koch Epstein chat with Rev. Daniel Meeter of the Old First Reformed Church outside Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. The two institutions have forged a durable bond over the years.
Cindy Greenberg
Helping Hands: Rabbis Andy Bachman and Shira Koch Epstein chat with Rev. Daniel Meeter of the Old First Reformed Church outside Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. The two institutions have forged a durable bond over the years.

By Hannah Rubin

Published June 04, 2012, issue of June 08, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Two collapsed ceilings led to one big mitzvah for a Brooklyn synagogue and a neighboring church.

After its roof collapsed in 2009, Congregation Beth Elohim, located in Park Slope, temporarily moved its services to the Old First Reformed Church, down the block. Two years later, Rabbi Andy Bachman was nearly struck by chunks of plaster as he prepared for High Holy Day services inside the church.

The double-debris drama could have led to friction between two less-committed congregations. Instead, it inspired the synagogue to donate $15,000 to the church to help fund repairs, after winning a $250,000 renovation grant last week.

“We know what an awful time it is to be looking at a sacred space and know it can’t be used,” said Cindy Greenberg, CBE’s program director. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to start them on their journey.”

Despite the close bond between the two institutions and his personal friendship with Bachman, the Rev. Daniel Meeter of the Old First Reformed Church said he was stunned by the donation.

“This gift of money was a complete shock to us,” Meeter said.

The church and the synagogue have had an informal relationship for decades and have conducted joint Bible studies for nearly a century. They founded the Park Slope Coalition for the Homeless and operate a shelter together. Since 2001, Meeter has attended High Holy Day services at CBE.

Three years ago, calamity struck when the synagogue, which is located on Garfield Place, lost part of its ceiling when it caved it days before the Yom Kippur service. After hearing about the devastation, Meeter invited Bachman to lead his 1,000-member congregation in Yom Kippur services in the church sanctuary.

“It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Reverend Meeter and Rabbi Bachman, as well as between our two communities,” Greenberg said.

Meeter called it “a no-brainer” to offer a hand to the Jewish congregation.

“We’re Dutch Calvinists, so we don’t have a cross or saints in the sanctuary,” he said. “We’ve got the Ten Commandments up on the wall behind the pulpit. It seemed like a fitting sacred space.”

For the next two years, the Old First Reformed Church hosted CBE’s High Holy Day services in its sanctuary.

In a strange twist of fate, 15 minutes before CBE’s Rosh Hashanah service was set to begin inside the church last September, large clumps of plaster fell from the ceiling.

No one was harmed, and the service in the sanctuary went on as planned. It did, however, lead to some jokes about the ceiling woes following the synagogue to one location from another.

“It was the cause of much humor,” Meeter said. “Everyone [from Beth Elohim was] saying: ‘Is it us? Is it us?’”

The church brought in an engineering team, which deemed the entire room to be unsafe. Bachman’s 2011 Rosh Hashanah service was the last event held in the sanctuary.

While its congregation is small enough to fit in its Sunday school hall for regular services, the church has used the repaired sanctuary of CBE for its past two Christmas and Easter events.

The church’s hopes of fixing the roof anytime looked dim, until CBE scored its giant grant win. The synagogue came in second in a social media contest sponsored by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A tireless month of strategic social media advertising rallied popular support, and CBE won 8% of all votes cast, beating out such prominent New York landmarks as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the High Line park.

“It really speaks to how invested the community is in helping us repair our space,” Greenberg said. “Not just our Jewish members, but the whole Park Slope community.”

Contact Hannah Rubin at rubin@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.