In Western Queens, New Blood Raises Hopes for Jewish Revitalization
In West Queens, New Blood Raises Hopes for Jewish Revital.
Young Jews in Long Island City celebrate Sukkot on a condo rooftop. Rabbi Zev Wineberg
by Sharon Udasin
When Cara Bernstein walked down the aisle a month ago to meet her fiancé under the chupah, she knew her wedding day was a crossroads not only in her life, but in the life of her Queens synagogue, which had not hosted a bride and groom for 22 years.
Nearly the entire congregation at Astoria Center of Israel celebrated her marriage that day, whether or not they knew the couple personally.
“A fellow congregant told me that I’m part of a new wave of congregants,” said Bernstein, who is 38.
Astoria Center of Israel is just one pocket of many in northwestern Queens where residents say they are seeing a revitalization of their historic Jewish populations. For 20- and 30-somethings who crave cheaper rents in close proximity to Manhattan, Astoria has become somewhat of a mecca, with popular restaurants, shops and nightlife options.
In Long Island City, brand-new yet pricey condominiums are attracting a slightly older crowd — young families in their 30s and 40s who find the East River waterfront an attractive place to raise small children. Other young singles and families are choosing nearby Jackson Heights and Sunnyside, which offer even more affordable real estate than the riverside neighborhoods.
Yet as young people — both Jews and non-Jews alike — continue to flock to northwestern Queens, they often lack the infrastructure necessary to accommodate Jewish community, area experts agree.
“I felt very good about Jewish life beginning here, but I don’t see any push to set up synagogues there,” said Jeff Gottlieb, president of the Queens Jewish Historical Society. “I see a lot of young Jewish people there, but I don’t see any real sparkle of any organizational Jewish life.”
Spiritual leaders like the Astoria Center’s Rabbi Jonathan Pearl are trying to combat this notion and reinvigorate their aging populations by pulling in younger crowds.
“There was an amazing sense of revitalization coming back into the sanctuary when we had a marriage taking place here,” said Rabbi Pearl, who has been at the synagogue for a little over a year. “The place was full.”
Last Sunday, Astoria Center of Israel received landmark designation status from the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places, for its beautiful interior décor and history of civic leadership since the 1920s. Today, the Conservative synagogue is egalitarian with about 100 members, most of whom are the elderly remnants of a neighborhood that was once home to seven synagogues and multiple kosher butchers. Continue reading…Share