Story's the Same, Only the Shul Has Changed

Lincoln Square Synagogue Follows Emanu-El on Oblivion Path

Bring On Your Wrecking Ball: In its heyday, Lincoln Square’s sanctuary-in-the-round was considered to be daring.
WIkimedia Commons
Bring On Your Wrecking Ball: In its heyday, Lincoln Square’s sanctuary-in-the-round was considered to be daring.

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Published February 08, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The synagogue’s manifold charms, though, were not enough to hold change at bay. Little by little, Midtown Manhattan succumbed to increasing commercialization, a process rued by The New York Times, which, in a February 1926 article titled “One by One, the Avenue’s Landmarks Go,” cataloged Fifth Avenue’s transformation from a genteel residential street into a “restless, urgent” commercial artery. Temple Emanu-El’s home was among the casualties of change. Before long, it, too, came to be valued as a commodity, prompting a series of unusually complicated real estate transactions that culminated in the synagogue moving to a brand-new location, a mile or so uptown.

For all the excitement and sense of possibility that attended this new chapter in Temple Emanu-El’s history, the synagogue’s congregants found it difficult to part from their familiar surroundings. Though their rabbi, H.G. Enelow, reminded them at the very last service that “when we leave our temple, we leave only the building,” teary-eyed members clustered in the lobby “as though hesitant to leave for the last time,” an eyewitness reported.

Fast-forward to 2013. I heard echoes of Enelow’s gentle admonition at Lincoln Square Synagogue’s farewell service only a few weeks ago, when Sherwood Goffin, the beloved cantor who has been with the congregation since its origins, reassured a standing-room-only crowd that Lincoln Square Synagogue was not giving up the ghost or relinquishing its memories, but simply moving down the block to a new and much improved facility.

For more than 40 years, Lincoln Square Synagogue had called a travertine-clad building on Amsterdam Avenue and 69th Street its home. When it opened its doors in 1970, its sanctuary-in-the round was considered rather daring, especially for an Orthodox congregation. As much a social statement as an architectural one, its unusual geometry held out, and made manifest, a vision of inclusiveness that drew thousands of young American Jews.

Some architectural critics were not so beguiled. The AIA Guide to New York City made the following observation: “The theaters of nearby Lincoln Center set the travertine tone for the area, and this mannered, curvy, articulated synagogue picks up the cue.” So far, so good. It then went on to note — rather snarkily, I should add — that inasmuch as the synagogue was adjacent to a bank, “the two together seem to be making an inadvertent comment about money changers at the temple.”

Ironically enough, one man’s snark turned out to be another’s good fortune. The congregation’s decision in the 1980s to purchase the property next door — “to buy the bank,” as the fund-raising campaign was colloquially called — enabled it not only to accommodate a steadily growing number of congregants, but also to assemble a very nice, and increasingly attractive, piece of real estate.

Years later, when developers came a’calling, Lincoln Square Synagogue availed itself of the opportunity to sell the property and, well, you know the rest of the story: A cherished building comes down, and a new one takes its place, while history looks on and waits.


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!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • 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.