After years of watching synagogue members die or move away, the Sephardic Jewish Center of Canarsie made the difficult decision to downsize.
The 50-year-old Brooklyn synagogue had been a thriving center for the area’s Sephardim. But after accepting that it could no longer pull together enough money to cover expenses, let alone muster the 10 men necessary for daily prayer, the synagogue disposed of most of its belongings and began holding Shabbat services in a nearby Ashkenazi congregation.
But what was the center to do with its prayer books? It owned several hundred volumes in the Spanish-Portuguese liturgical style – some tattered, some like new and some belonging to older members that may have had significant worth.
“We donated some to a local shul, but we had to get rid of a lot of them and bury them,” Rabbi Myron Rakowitz told JTA. “It was difficult because we didn’t just want to throw them out or claim them unusable. We want other people to use them, to give them purpose when we no longer can.”
What to do with the old books – it’s a growing problem for synagogues across the United States.
In the last six years, the three major American Jewish denominations have released new prayer books. More than 1,500 synagogues have purchased the books, in some cases making older versions obsolete.
More than 700 congregations have bought copies of the Reform movement’s new Mishkan T’Filah, and hundreds more are expected to buy. The Conservative movement’s new High Holy Days prayer book, the Lev Shalem Mahzor, has sold nearly 260,000 copies to some 500 congregations since its 2010 release. And over 200,000 copies of the Koren siddur released in 2009 have been purchased by more than 300 Orthodox synagogues.
The problem isn’t going away. The Reform movement is working on a new High Holy Days prayer book, or machzor, that it expects to release in 2015.