Sometimes you say or write something only to realize later that what was stated was not completely accurate. That happened here in two instances over the last week, so let’s set the record straight.
In last week’s column, which discussed the plans for our children’s yeshivas opening in a standard fashion, we stated that with things remaining as they are today in New York, it is likely that yeshivas in Nassau County will be able to do so but that schools in the five boroughs of New York City might have to adhere to the de Blasio plan of blended education. That means some days physically in class and some days online at home.
It was brought to my attention that the mayor’s policy at this point does not affect our private schools. It is only a public-school policy at this point in time. That means that as of today, if yeshivas were scheduled to open, they would open as they always have, which is very good news.
On the other matter, a few weeks ago, as I was chronicling my Catskills escapades, I wrote that it looked like the Woodbourne shul was the only one of a panoply of historic shuls in the Catskills that was in reasonably good shape. That was my pedestrian and casual impression on the state of these shuls. It only took a few days until I received a letter from Benjamin Langer, a summertime resident of Loch Sheldrake and a member of Congregation Adath Israel, objecting to my superficial finding.
He wrote in a letter that appeared here last week that, “The Hebrew Congregation of Loch Sheldrake was built in the 1920s and is the only Catskill shul listed on the National Register of Historical Places.”
That’s why last Sunday I made an effort to make it to the 8 a.m. Sunday-morning minyan in Loch Sheldrake. I felt badly about the inadvertent misrepresentation, and I also genuinely wanted to see what a well-preserved hundred-year-old shul looks like from the inside.
The Loch Sheldrake shul is well-kept, neat, and clean. The only drawback, as far as I can see, is that there is only one minyan in the morning, and that is at 8 a.m. The contrast with Woodbourne on that count is stark. As those who are familiar with the shul in Woodbourne know, you can catch a morning minyan there well into the afternoon.
So being that I arrived in Loch Sheldrake at about 8:20 a.m., I looked around, spoke to some of the members, and then made my way back to Woodbourne for Shacharis.
Let me just say this about the Woodbourne shul: It is the Grand Central Station of this area of the Catskills. I had heard about it and perhaps even davened Minchah there once or twice over the years. But this year, I had the unique opportunity of davening Shacharis there almost every day that I was in the Catskills for the last month.
I grew up about a block away from the Nikolsburger Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis. I don’t remember him too well, but I remember his father, a short Chassidic man who was known as the Jenger Rav back then. Rabbi Jungreis and his family have breathed life into this shul and this town, which is a hub of the Orthodox Catskills.
Right on the main artery of Woodbourne is the marquis of the old Woodbourne movie theater. There has not been a film shown inside that building for close to 40 years. So why is that empty theater building still there, especially when it could have been converted into something that could have more effectively fit into the lifestyle that dominates this town?
Who knows — maybe the Woodbourne theater is like one of those old Confederate statues that testify to the history of days gone by here in the United States. When you are walking to the shul from the nearby rocky parking lot, you cannot help but pass the long-closed movie theater in the center of Woodbourne.
Walking through Woodbourne, I recalled the stores and cafés that filled the town before its transformation to a kosher spot on the map. The store that was once the hub here was The Lucky Dip, which today is a kosher pizza store. Back in those days, The Lucky Dip wasn’t kosher, but a lot of young people with yarmulkes hung out there and just drank Diet Cokes.
Back then, the building that was once the shul was completely closed, sealed up. The rumor was that it opened on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to cater to the native Jewish population. There was little indication back then that Jews lived in the area all year long.
It has to be that the key to the survival of this dusty, worn-down town is its overwhelming spiritual component. Maybe the theater was once the heart of this little town, but if that was the case, today the shul plays that important role.
Last Friday after Shacharis I was looking for Rabbi Jungreis, but he was nowhere to be seen. I asked his son, who is usually there when the rabbi cannot be there, where his father was and he pointed to the building next to the shul. He said that is where his parents reside during the summer season, and, he added, since it was erev Shabbos, his father was in the next-door kitchen cooking up cholent for the post-minyanim Kiddush the next day.
I didn’t know that the rav was also a proficient chef, and I asked his son a couple of times whether his father was really cooking cholent. He said that his father was indeed, seeming a little puzzled about why I would even question him about that.
I asked how many people or minyanim Rabbi Jungreis was cooking for. He wasn’t sure, but he did say that every seat — on the large outside veranda as well as inside the shul — is filled.
He pointed in different directions indicating the locations of the various minyanim, and then pointed to the indoor second-floor shul, which was once the main sanctuary, and said that up there is the noon Shacharis minyan on Shabbos.
I suppose that I am enamored with that kind of Chassidic liberal reality because I spent so many years in yeshiva trying to make it to minyan by 7:30 in the morning. Perhaps that is the reason my ears perk up when I hear about a noon Shacharis, but that’s only a theory.
More than anything, I think that Mordechai Jungreis is and should be proud of what he has built here. The congregants are diverse, but take a look around and you will see that this shul serves everyone, around the clock. It is not unusual to see Rabbi Jungreis standing in the back of the outdoor area surveying the various minyanim and personally making certain that as one minyan ends, the next one begins almost immediately.
Friday morning is the only time you won’t see him standing in his usual director’s position. And that’s because he is next door, in the kitchen, making cholent.
Contact Larry Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow 5TJT.com on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.