During the High Holidays, an Orthodox synagogue in the Fleetwood neighborhood of Mount Vernon, located in southern Westchester, embarked on a large improvement project for its sanctuary.
The idea of updating and raising the mechitzah was proposed by one of the community’s youngest board members, after hearing from new and potential members that doing so would make them more comfortable at Fleetwood. Rather than knee-jerk opposition to a “johnny-come-lately’s’ or an ‘outsider’s’ criticism, the board’s response was thoughtful, via an open discussion where all voices were heard. “The important thing,” said one board member, “was that everyone approached the topic from the perspective of what was best for Fleetwood Synagogue and everyone kept an open mind.” Ultimately, the board decided to appoint a committee to study the issue, and make a recommendation for the entire membership to consider. After investigating many of the mechitzos in Riverdale, Queens, and Westchester, and taking a communal survey with over 90% of Fleetwood members responding, the Mechitza Committee’s presentation was overwhelmingly recommended by the board, and the design enthusiastically approved at the annual membership meeting.
Fleetwood was able to draw on another of its major resources—the willingness of its members to give of their time. Less than three months after the membership approved the project, a team of Fleetwood members was installing the completed additions to the mechitzah, which had been hand-built decades ago by a Fleetwood member.
According to Fleetwood’s rabbi, Daniel Rosenfelt, such participation is encouraged and this level of engagement is critical to the feeling of community that infuses Fleetwood’s membership. “While we value our close proximity to neighboring Jewish communities and New York City (Riverdale and New Rochelle are both less than a 10-minute drive away, and a five-minute walk to the Fleetwood Metro North Station puts you 25 minutes from Grand Central Terminal) we also appreciate our ‘small town feel’. At Fleetwood everyone counts!
Every man, woman, and child has a strength he or she can offer to our community.” Everyone, even the youngest or the newest members, feels like a community leader making a difference.
After seeing the completed projected, the membership was effusive in its praise, both in terms of the aesthetics and the sensitivity that went into the design. They remarked on how respectful the additions were to the original builder’s design and how they achieved the project’s goals while accommodating all the members’ needs.
“This is a very exciting time for our community,” says Rabbi Rosenfelt. “We are truly on the cusp of putting Fleetwood on the map.” In the past ten months, five new families have moved into Fleetwood from Riverdale, the Upper West Side, Brooklyn, and the Five Towns. The better you get to know Fleetwood, says the rabbi, the easier it is to see why. They were drawn in by Fleetwood neighborhood’s tree-lined streets, the reasonable commute to New York City, the availability of affordable, beautiful homes within the eruv—many for under $500K—and its proximity to a range of yeshivot and day schools.