New Torah & Shul Revitalize Young Israel in Sunnyside


nesanel-lerman-sunnysideFrom a NY Daily News report: When resurrecting a withering congregation, even divine intervention can get a little boost from some entrepreneurial spirit. The once-thriving Young Israel synagogue in Sunnyside was on the verge of disappearing several years ago – a casualty of shifting demographics.It had no rabbi, a crumbling building on 45th St. and Torahs that were falling apart. In the years after World War II, the neighborhood was a vibrant community for Orthodox Jews, but as congregants moved and aged, the membership dwindled.

Betty Ann Weiner, 55, and her husband joined eight years ago when the congregation was going through perhaps its roughest patch.

“It was a total nightmare,” she said. “There was no heat, windows were broken, we had stray cats coming in and living in the building. There were maybe eight people total in regular attendance. The Torah needs to be a perfect scroll, and ours were falling apart. They were unusable.”

The turning point was in 2005.

The National Council of Young Israel, which has about 200 member synagogues around the country, stepped in and persuaded the Sunnyside congregation to move to a smaller, more manageable location on 46th St.

It also found them a new rabbi and commissioned a new Torah, painstakingly handwritten.

Now, membership is growing and young Jewish families are moving to Sunnyside to be a part of the revitalized community, synagogue officials said.

Last month, congregants put the finishing touches on the Torah scroll as part of a celebration that culminated in a procession down 46th St.

It was emblematic of the new life breathed into a synagogue on the verge of collapse – both literally and figuratively.

The roof partially caved in on Rosh Hashanah in 2006, just after the congregation moved out.

“We had another place already. It was meant to be that we should open by the [Jewish] new year,” Weiner said.

Congregants also knew that a new Torah scroll would provide confidence to members that the synagogue was becoming a vibrant place to worship.

They were right.

Membership has steadily increased in the past five years, now with 25 families that regularly attend services.

When the new scroll was brought into the synagogue, “there was not a dry eye in the house,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.

“For the older Jews in the community, it was special for them to see their synagogue return. For the younger Jews, it was a symbol of rebirth.”

The scroll is handwritten and a number of people must inspect every letter to make sure it is perfect. It can cost $50,000 to produce.

“The new Torah has a very special significance for us,” said the new rabbi, Nesanel Lerman, 37.

“It’s a real symbol of where we want to be and every time we take it out, it fills us with joy.”

The members of Young Israel hope Sunnyside will continue to attract Orthodox Jews. Neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, which have bustling Orthodox communities, are appealing, but the commute to Manhattan can be cumbersome.

Zach Berman, 22, and his wife moved to Sunnyside a year ago. He was drawn to the easy commute into the city.

But more than that, the young couple said they were delighted by the idea of helping start a Jewish community rather than moving into an established one.

“We feel like we are pioneers out here,” he said. “The new Torah scroll represented the start of a new life. It was the start of a new life for us, and a new life for the synagogue.”

{NY Daily News/}


  1. Rabbi Lerman is a terrific person and a massive Talmid Chacham with lots of potential I believe he will have this shule running on full compacity in no time