Memory Lane: Congregation Kesser Israel, A Sanctuary in Mapleton Park
Melting Pot in Mapleton
The neighborhood of Mapleton Park was developed around the year 1910. It used to encapsulate greater parts of Boro Park and Bensonhurst, but today it is situated over roughly a square mile with the 18th Avenue Park (also known as Gravesend Park) in its center. Jews began coming to the area in the early 1920’s, and they founded Congregation Kesser Israel.
The first record of the establishment of this congregation comes from the New York City’s survey of religious congregations, which records: “Previously, in store on 18th Avenue, near 56th, until 1927” –suggesting that they had been founded, and had moved around, for some time before 1927.
Finally, it was time to acquire a sanctuary of their own. In the deed to the property located at 1769 56th Street, we learn that on January 21, 1928, it went from one G. Levine, to S. Krohenengold, who, in turn sold it to Kesser Israel on July 5, 1928. Days later, on July 22, 1928, the following announcement appears in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “The synagogue Crown of Israel Talmud Torah will build a two-story synagogue on the north side of 56th Street, 87 feet west of 18th Avenue, to cost $40,000.”
The lot standing over the 87 feet from 18th Avenue until the shul has never been built on, and has served as a play area for the children for as long as anyone can remember.
‘Jews to Break Ground’
In September of 1928, the Brooklyn Times Union, writes: “Jews to break ground. To start new building of Crown of Israel Talmud Torah. Ground will be broken for the new bu8ilding of Crown of Israel Talmud Torah and Jewish Centre, 56th st. and 18th Avenue, on Sunday, June 24, at 2 PM. Many prominent Jews of Mapleton Park will participate. Rabbis, singers and many city officials will be present” (the presence of these officials may have been due to the strong influence of the presidents of the shul over the years who were politically active).
It took roughly 18 months to build the shul, and the two-level structure with its beautiful, stained-glass windows, has served Crown of Israel and its Talmud Torah students ever since.
“Holy Scroll given… presented on first anniversary of the synagogue,” writes the Brooklyn Times Union. “A procession of 300 persons marched from 53rd Street yesterday with the holy scroll to temple Crown of Israel Talmud Torah.”
In march of 1929, Home Talk writes: Many see dedication of new Talmud Torah. The dedication of Kesser Israel Talmud Torah was held last Sunday. The parade started at 3 P.M. and went through the Mapleton section… the parade stopped near the Jewish Centre, where I. Hecht, who supervised in constructing the Talmud Torah, turned over the key to President Bernard Lefkowitz, who auctioned off the key to Mrs. D. Harris for $300…Abraham Helderman, one of the charter members, and past treasurer of the center, who presented the institution with a beautiful ark, was given a unanimous vote of thanks.
A little digging revealed the following about Mr. Helderman: He was a young orphan in Russia, and would eat tegg at the home of the Rebbetzin of the Rebbe Maharash of Lubavitch. When he came to America, he found himself among non-religious people, but upon the visit of Rav Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch, he renewed the connection and strengthened his yiddishkeit. He moved to Brooklyn, to the 18th Avenue area, where he would participate in all the minyanim. He grandson relates that he the only way he remembers him is bent over a gemara in the back of his paint store in Irvington, N.J., and customers would have to plead with him to come sell them paint.
The Shul had a number of distinguished Rabbonim at its helm over the decades. They will be profiled here in coming installments.