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Shul History

Anshei Chesed Congregation: a History

by Pinchas Gorfinkel

 

Imagine Woodmere and Hewlett with a total of only one shul – a modest sized Young Israel of Woodmere. That’s the way it was in 1973, when Rabbi Binyamin Kamenetzky zt’l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Chaim on William Street, invited some families who lived some distance from the Young Israel to start a minyan in the Yeshiva.

 

Things started slowly, with a minyan comprised largely of teenagers like Herb and Stu Feuerstein, Jay and Lenny Spector, Billy Hoffman and Stuie Wax. Just about the only adults who davened regularly with the little minyan were Nachman Ofer, who served as ba’al keriah, and Neil Reisman, whose wife Judy often made a kiddush for the shul that helped to attract daveners – some of whom were not yet observant. They davened in a second floor classroom in the yeshiva, and often had to wait a while until a minyan gathered. Fortunately, however, they had the services of Rabbi Yitzchok Knobel, who traveled with his wife Suri and children almost every shabbos from their home in Lakewood (during a severe gas shortage caused by the Arab oil embargo!), to serve as Rav. But the following year, the Knobels moved to Toronto, and the minyan carried on without a real Mara D’asra.

 

By 1975, the shul was definitely growing. Families like Peter and Laurel Steinherz, Lenny and Adele Goldstein, Eitan and Rachie Dombrowsky, Joel and Marilyn Mandel and Howie and Tzila Schulman moved in, and the minyan had become big enough to move to the yeshiva lunchroom, where it remained for a quarter century. Rabbi Moshe Soshtain z’l became the unofficial Mara D’asra, and Rabbi Binyomin Forst gave shiurim on occasion. By about 1980, the shul numbered some 20 or 25 families.

 

But the most important event of those early days took place in 1981, when Rabbi Simcha Lefkowitz and his wife Shani moved from Los Angeles to become official Mara D’asra and Rebbetzin, functions they have carried out with love and devotion for 37 years and counting. We hope they continue to count many more years!

 

Important new members continued to join the shul. For example, Steve Savitsky became shul president in the late 1980’s, and the experience he gained running the shul served him well when, some years later, he became president of another organization, known as the OU. Yakov Hagler became regular ba’al tefillah for the Yamim Noraim in 1994, and he continues to inspire us until this day.

 

The shul was outgrowing the yeshiva lunchroom, and on Rosh HaShanah 2000, it moved to a beautiful new building with a beautiful sanctuary, on the Yeshivas Toras Chaim campus, which owned it. But tragedy struck just before Rosh HaShanah 2002, when our beloved Rabbi Lefkowitz became seriously ill. Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, filled in magnificently as Rav during the Yamim Tovim of Tishrei, when the shul reacted with great kavanah and passion in its davening for Rabbi Lefkowitz. Rabbi Glatt became the shul’s Associate Rabbi that October. Also that month, in recognition of the many acts of chesed that the shul engaged in on behalf of Rabbi Lefkowitz and others, the name of the shul was changed from Toras Chaim to Anshei Chesed. And the story had a happy, though bittersweet, ending, as Rabbi Lefkowitz returned to his position after the passage of some months.

 

Anshei Chesed was thrilled to welcome the dynamic young Rabbi Isaac Rice to its family as Assistant Rabbi in time for the Yamim Noraim of 2014. And today, with our staff of three terrific Rabbis and dedicated lay leaders, the shul looks to the future with excitement and confidence.

 

The following have served as President of Congregation Toras Chaim/Anshei Chesed:

 

Dr. Peter Steinherz

Howard Schulman

Steven Savitsky

Burt Hochstein

Pinchas Gorfinkel

Dr. Jackie Shafran

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt

Dr. Abraham Herzberg

Sheldon Pfefer

Yakov Hagler

Ian Rubinstein

Jeffrey Lewisohn

Yitzi Stern

Daniel Aaron

Michael Nadata

Jeremy Goldfeder

Rabbi Elly Krimsky

Mon, May 27 2019 22 Iyyar 5779