Brooklyn’s Oldest Shul, Led by Rav Yehoshua Fishman, Celebrates 141st Birthday


rav-yehoshua-fishmanThe oldest Orthodox shul in all of Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island – one of the few remnants of the non-chassidishe Jewish community that thrived in Williamsburg until the 1960s – celebrated its 141st anniversary on Sunday with a dinner that attracted several well-known figures from the legal and political communities.

The shul is Congregation Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom, led since 1971 by Rav Yehoshua Fishman, who until recently, headed Torah Umesorah, and 85-year-old president Morris Schulman.

According to Marty Needelman, longtime director of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and a trustee of the shul, “In 1971, you had 700 people coming to services here. Now, on Saturdays, you get about 25 people; on other days you get 12.”

Nevertheless, said Needelman, the congregation has attracted some younger members. Of the older people, some are Holocaust survivors.

The shul was founded in 1869 by traditional Jews who were members of a local Reform synagogue and were angry that this shul installed an organ for Yom Kippur. The first Jews who lived in the area were German Jews, as Reform Judaism was strong in Germany.

There are no longer any Reform or Conservative (actually, middle of the road) congregations in the area, said Needelman.

The German Jewish community aside, large numbers of Eastern European Jewish immigrants flocked to Williamsburg from the Lower East Side in the early years of the 20th century, after the Williamsburg Bridge provided a direct link with Manhattan. Williamsburg was always a community for working class Jews, as opposed to more middle-class Jewish neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Flatbush.

After World War II, chassidish and other Jewish refugees from Europe began to make Williamsburg their home.

Other Brooklynites who attended the anniversary dinner included prominent attorney and Democratic District Leader Steve Cohn and Assemblyman Joe Lentol. Lentol told the Eagle that although he himself is not Jewish, his, father, mother and aunt all spoke Yiddish because the neighborhood was so heavily Jewish.

“We had a store, and we had to be able to talk to the Yiddish customers,” said the assemblyman, who added that it was “an honor” to make a presentation at the dinner.

Cohn told the Eagle that “the synagogue is where I had my bar mitzvah. I go back there all the time – it reminds me of my dad, who was an assemblyman and was involved in the synagogue. The dinner is a wonderful annual event.”

The guest speaker at the dinner was Rabbi Oscar Ehrenreich, longtime principal of the Bais Yaakov girls’ school in Borough Park, which has 2,000 students.

The shul’s current building, at 284 Rodney St., near Broadway, was built in 1957 – the original building was demolished as a result of the building of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

{Brooklyn Eagle/Noam Newscenter}


  1. Wonderful tribute to the “South 5th Street Shul” as it was called back in the 50s and 60s when Rabbi Pincus, menahel of Torah Vodaath Elementary School, was the mora d’asra. Downstairs was the sefard minyan under the leadership of Mr. Stern. Upstairs in the main minyan was the charismatic R. Pincus whose talis could barely stay on his back as he leaped from one side of the aron to the other. Kudos to R. Fishman for maintaining the shul all these years. May he continue biz 120.

  2. Rav Fishman amv”sh is a fine human being. I did not know he was president of the congregation but with his warmth and seichel I am not surprised. How interesting that the oldest shul in Brooklyn is 141 years old!

  3. just to point out in inaccuracy the greenpoint shul does have a machitza – i sit on one side of it every week.