Over 80,000 Pass Through Woodbourne Shul This Summer

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woodbourne-rav-jungreisWoodbourne, NY – Even before you reach the modest shul building at 457 Route 42, signs of the bustling activity assail you. The nearby parking lot for the Woodbourne seforim store is full – all 300 spaces. Tables are set up outside to accommodate the overflow crowd. The trademark sign hanging on the menorah in front proclaims “ALL ARE WELCOME.”

Welcome to Congregation Bnai Israel of Woodbourne.

Over 10,000 people pass through this remarkable building each week of the summer season, enjoying the various services the shul provides. Many come from quite a distance to daven in the Woodbourne shul and enjoy the free refreshments before continuing on their way. More than just servicing the entire Sullivan County, the shul has become an attraction in its own right.

The Face Behind the Revolution

Congregation Bnai Israel reopened its doors to the public in time for the summer of 2010, and attendance has grown exponentially since. The primary force behind this remarkable revolution is Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis shlit”a, the Nikolsburg Rebbe of Boro Park.

For those who visit the shul, the Rebbe is virtually indistinguishable from the shul itself. His presence there throughout the day from the time doors open for the first Shacharis at 6 AM until after the last Maariv – usually sometime after 2 AM – is simply taken for granted. The Rebbe’s characteristic hug as he greets the Mispalelim has turned many casual drop-ins into regulars who return again and again for more.

Numerous people openly admit that they travel from far just to enjoy the Rabbi Jungreis’ warm smile and words of encouragement. One man told the Rebbe that whenever he is feeling down he drives all the way from the Kiryas Joel community in Monroe to visit the shul and draw upon the Rebbe’s warmth and inspiration.

Typical is the story of one fellow who was intrigued when he heard that the old shul in Woodbourne got a new rabbi, one of those ultra-Orthodox guys from Brooklyn, whose first act was to hang up a sign welcoming all. “I’ve got to check this out,” was the man’s reaction. He drove over from a different neighborhood and, after noting the sign hanging prominently in front, he stepped gingerly inside.

Sure enough, the black-hatted rabbi welcomed him – t-shirt, shorts and all – with a warm embrace and led him to the front row. The man protested that he didn’t belong in front, but the Rebbe reassured him that in this shul the front and back rows are one and the same. Since then the man’s attire has undergone a transformation and he has become a shul regular.

Another man was so moved by the experience the first time he davened at the Woodbourne Shul that he made a point of bringing his whole family to see it – right down to his dog.

The Rebbe is so much a part of the shul that when he was called away briefly this summer to assist a youth who had gotten into a brush with the law, visitors to the shul were stunned not to find the Rebbe there. When Rabbi Jungreis reappeared many people came over to ask him what had happened. “Rabbi, where were you? I’ve never seen the shul without you before!”

Rabbi Jungreis sees himself not as the shul’s rabbi but more as a gabbai, a steward who oversees the public domain. “This is not my shul; it’s your shul, it’s everyone’s shul. This is Klal Yisroel’s shul!”

Historic Shul Reopens its Doors

In many ways the revitalization of the Woodbourne Shul is indicative of the overall trend in Woodbourne.

Congregation Bnai Israel was formed way back in 1918 and the present building was erected four years later. Its status as one of the older synagogues in the country was officially recognized in January 1999, when the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The shul actively served the local community for many decades, but with time and changing demographics declining attendance began to set in. In 2000 the last rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Boaz, left for Lakewood and soon the synagogue closed its doors to regular services.

At the same time the hamlet of Woodbourne developed a sordid reputation as hordes of teenagers seeking to shed their religious affiliation in a group setting gathered there every summer. By the 1980s many Rabbonim placed a ban on the town, insisting that parents not allow their children to visit there. Rabbi Jungreis spent his summers near Woodbourne and he became deeply involved in the distressing situation.

The Nikolsburg Rebbe has an extensive background in the field of “kiruv krovim,” having worked for 10 years in Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein’s yeshiva. His own shul in Borok Park, located at 4912 16th Avenue is well known as an address for “teens at risk,” especially those from Chassidic backgrounds. One such boy wore necklaces and tattoos when the Rebbe invited him in. Today that same boy delivers a daily drasha in a yeshiva in Boro Park.

Another boy told the Rebbe that after dropping his Chassidic background and donning more casual attire he can no longer return to daven at the places he frequented in the past. “When they see me show up in blue slacks and a t-shirt they chase me out.” The only place he can feel accepted is in the Nikolsburg Beis Medrash, where everyone is made to feel at home regardless of their appearance.

Rabbi Jungreis got to work in Woodbourne, visiting the billiard halls and swimming pools and instituting changes that slowly helped turned the situation around. In the course of his work he came to realize that there was a need for a spiritual focal point, a place that would serve those who were seeking some spirituality in the midst of the summer free-for-all. In addition there was a need to accommodate all those who missed the sole Minyan in their bungalow colony or were not going to make it on time to their destination.

The sight of the historic shul building with its doors closed yet its garden being attended to meticulously struck Rabbi Jungreis as uniquely incongruous. He decided to try to rectify the matter. He spoke to the remaining members of the shul and suggested that they open the building for the summer vacationers to enjoy. The idea was not taken seriously at first, but after several years of gentle prodding the locals agreed.

Rabbi Jungreis offered to take financial responsibility for the heavy usage the building would see by renting the shul from. This was the exact opposite of what the locals expected from someone who seemed interested in becoming the new rabbi. But the Nikolsburg Rebbe insisted that he was not there to take over, just to open the shul for all to benefit from it.

And that’s how people found Rabbi Jungreis standing in front of the shul in the summer of 2010 holding a large cardboard sign proclaiming: “Minyanim Going On Now!” Well-intending people told the Rebbe that he was crazy; this idea would never get off the ground.

Boy were they wrong. During that first season alone the shul saw 20,000 people pass through its doors. The following year the number grew to 40,000, then to 60,000. Now in its fourth season, the tally of visitors has already surpassed 80,000.

Under Rabbi Jungreis’ oversight the building has undergone renovations to permit its second floor to be used for additional minyanim. The roof underwent extensive repair at a staggering cost of $80,000. The heavy flow of people has taken its toll and more work is needed to maintain the building and repair the plumbing. The Nikolsburg Rebbe, a 35-year veteran melamed in the Talmud Torah of Chaim Berlin, gave up his summer position to devote himself full-time to the needs of the summer community.

After three years of renting the shul, the local membership surprised the Rebbe this year by offering to sell him the building. Without missing a beat the Rebbe took out a $10,000 loan from a Gmach to meet the deposit for the $120,000 sale. “I’m not doing this for myself,” the Rebbe explained to those who expressed their incredulity. “I’m doing it for Klal Yisroel.”

The Woodbourne Shul Experience

This year an additional 100 tables and chairs were brought in to allow the overflow crowds to daven outside. As many as seven minyanim may go on simultaneously: One upstairs, two downstairs, one outside in the front, another in the back, yet another at the corner and another along the side. This summer over 40 chiyuvim relied on the Amud daily at Khal Bnai Yisroel.

The Minyanim blend into one another seamlessly. As the day goes on Shacharis turns into Mincha, which turns into Maariv that continues well past midnight. One man showed up last year shortly after 2 AM, only to find the doors already closed. “Rabbi,” he begged Rabbi Jungreis with tears in his eyes, “I’m a Chiyuv and I never yet missed davening at the Amud! Do something for me.”

The Rebbe reassured the man that he should wait patiently and a Minyan will arrive. Sure enough, in a matter of minutes another group of 10 had formed outside and the man was able to lead the Minyan and recite Kadish. And before he finished davening yet another Minyan was queued up.

What is the incredible force attracting so many people to this simple shul? While its location and convenience are undoubtedly a factor, the love and friendliness the Rebbe shares with all clearly tip the scale. His official “welcome to all” means that literally all types of Jews can walk in here and feel at home. At any given time you will find black hats, beaver hats and knitted yarmulkas davening together side-by-side in perfect harmony.

One of the first innovations the Rebbe introduced back in 2010 was the constant availability of refreshments, free of charge. Anyone can come in at any time of day and enjoy the cakes, cookies, juice, milk and soda that are replenished endlessly.

Another very important factor in the shul’s vitality is the renowned speaker and Torah personality, Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss. He delivers a brief thought each day after davening for all in attendance. For example, last week he exhorted his listeners to stop, even if only for a few seconds, each time they pass the Mezuzah and contemplate its message.

Rabbi Weiss also hosts a well-attended Thursday night shiur in the shul throughout the summer that draws a large audience. Every week at 10 PM a crowd of 100 or more gathers to listen to an impassioned lecture that keep them mesmerized for as long as two hours. Participants are greeted with the warm kugel and steaming cholent the Rebbe prepares each week. At the last count, the number of oversized crock pots needed to accommodate the Thursday night crowd surpassed 20!


The shul also hosts Daf Yomi shiurim and a kolel, presently numbering 17 members, of which Rabbi Jungreis is extremely proud. The young men who study in the shul come from all over, some with extreme dedication. One member told the Rebbe that he hitches from a distant bungalow colony with the Golden Flow milk delivery, than the Franczoz bread delivery, etc. until he reaches the Woodbourne shul. Another admitted to the Rebbe that his wife was relying on the weekly stipend of $100 to pay for diapers. These stories and others like them prompted Rabbi Jungreis to name his kolel “Kolel Mesirus Nefesh.”

Each Shabbos the Rebbe leads a Friday night tish in the shul that attracts many people who are staying in the neighborhood. On Shabbos afternoon there is a warm public Shalosh Seudos. One of the more dignified guests at the Shalosh Seudos is the Biala Rebbe of Boro Park, who walks 40 minutes each week to join. He commented, “In business you stand the risk of your stocks going down. Here at Khal Bnai Yisroel the stocks are only going up!” In addition there is a Melava Malka each Motzaei Shabbos at which all are welcome.

Dozens of outstanding Rabbonim and Torah personalities visit the Woodbourne shul each week. A partial list of recent guests includes Rav Don Segal, Rabbi Binyomin Eisenberger, the Galante Rav, the Kasho Rav, Nitra Rav, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, the Karlsburger Rav and the Satmar Rebbe shlit”a.

Rav Binyomin Eisenberger was entranced by the tremendous Achdus he witnessed in the shul. “You’re bringing together here as many people as last year’s Kinus Klal Yisroel brought from Lakewood and all over New York!”

Discussing the purchase of the shul building during his recent visit, Rav Don Segal shlit”a asked Rabbi Jungreis whether he was going to change the shul’s name to Nikolsburg to reflect the new ownership. Rabbi Jungreis replied, “No. The original name hanging on the shul for the past 94 years is good enough for me: Bnei Yisroel. This shul is for you, for me, for all of Bnei Yisroel!”

The Woodbourne Shul will reopen Motzaei Shabbos Nitzovim-Vayelech (August 31) for the first night of Selichos, with Selichos at 1 AM, and for Shacharis the following morning on Sunday.

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Every summer we spend a few days in the Catskills and one of the highlights of our stay is davening a mincha or ma’ariv in Woodbourne where my young boys get to see what true Ahavas Yisroel looks like. They are very proud of the bracha they receive from the Rebbe and tell all their friends about it when they get home.

    Ashrecha Rabbi Jungreis! May your efforts on behalf of ALL of Klal Yisroel lead to increased achdus among our people.

  2. The shul is everything they say in the article and more!! It has greatly improved Woodbourne. We have utilized it during the past few summers and rely on it. It is wonderful to not have to worry about finding a minyan!!

  3. I don’t go to the country much, but when I do- I always stop there to Daven. its such a warm and welcoming environment. I wish more Shuls would be like that, Welcoming…

  4. I remember when Harav Nochum Baruch Laskin zatzal was the Rav of Woodbourne.Harav Laskin was such an amazing person.He was loved by everyone.He was such a tzaddik.I am writing this with tears in my eyes that Harav Laskin left us to go to the yeshiva shel maala.

  5. It is truly amazing to see kedusha in Woodbourne. Kol Hakovod to Rabbi Jungreiss. As important as it is to have this shul in Woodbourne we should not forget about the Rabbonim who are here ALL YEAR long in their distinctive shuls who are moser nefesh to keep the Catskills a place of Torah. The Woodbourne shul is a seasonal shul serving seasonal travelers. The mesiras nefesh of the local Rabbonim who keep their shuls alive when the weather is well below zero is what’s impressive to me. Summer comes and goes and our shuls are here open all year. The local Rabbonim are the ones here providing life cycle services for the locals. This is a very nice article but in all honesty each shul here in the Catskills deserve such article if not better. The local Rabbis should definitely be mentioned for their tireless service for Klal Israel all year and during all seasons.

  6. Dear author of this fine article,
    How can you omit to mention the other shuls in Sullivan County? We work very hard in Monticello to make sure we have Minian and programing all year long. There is an obvious lack of sensitivity on the author’s part.

  7. #10 and #11,
    You are both right, HOWEVER this article was NOT about Yiddishkeit in the Catskills. It was about Rabbi Jungreis and the Shul.

    I suggest you each write an article about the Rabbonim who are there all winter long and about the Shul in Monticello and White Lake and Swan Lake and other places, etc. I am SURE it will be VERY inspirational.

    This article focused on what ONE MAN can accomplish and should inspire us and guide us ALL YEAR ROUND in what WE can accomplish if we put our efforts into it.


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