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!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • 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.