A dream became a reality in 1958. Our synagogue was to be for those who felt the force of a whispered Hebrew prayer; for those who relished the distinction of their heritage; for those who carried the tradition of Judaism proudly and gratefully.
The creation of Fifth Avenue Synagogue was inspired by a vision shared by Henry Hirsch, of blessed memory, Founding Chairman; Leib Merkin, of blessed memory, Elder Statesman; Mr. Hermann Merkin, of blessed memory, Founding President and Myrtle Hirsch, of blessed memory, who founded the Women's Club. They sought to create a synagogue that would embody the values of Orthodox Judaism in ideal form and would at the same time provide an aesthetically attractive ambiance and a social milieu that would appeal to Jews immersed in the life of contemporary America. This tradition of Torah im Derech Eretz continues to inform our synagogue to the present day.
The Fifth Avenue Synagogue has been blessed with outstanding spiritual leadership. Its founding Rabbi was Dr. Immanuel Jakobovits, who was a member of the British House of Lords. He was succeeded by Dr. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, who served as the Chancellor of Bar Ilan University. He was followed by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Shulman who served in orthodox communities around the world. Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth, a well-known philosopher and writer, upon his retirement, serves as Rabbi Emeritus. Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier and his family made Aliyah in 2014 and is our Rabbi Emeritus, Israel. Currently, Rabbi Eli Babich serves as the spiritual leader of our community.
The first Cantor of the synagogue was Mr. Bernard Bloomstein, a successful businessman whose services were offered on a voluntary basis. He was followed by the world-renowned Cantor Joseph Malovany who led services at Fifth Avenue for fifty years.
Fifth Avenue Synagogue is known as a spiritual home for leading Israeli dignitaries who find themselves in our city. We have had visits from Israeli Presidents, Prime Ministers, Generals, Chief Rabbis, Cabinet Ministers and Knesset members.
One of our beloved members, Herman Wouk was there at the beginning. Read his tribute to our synagogue in the section below.
A Tribute by Herman Wouk
Tradition and Regeneration
The Founding of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue
(On the occasion of the Synagogue's 25th anniversary) by Herman Wouk
Dedication to one Jewish tradition, rooted in temple times, was the starting point of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. Origins often get lost in the midst of the past, but as one who was there from the start, I can describe what took place.
Photo by David Hume Kennerly - Image courtesy gettyimages.com
At last an old building, on a lot very deep but much too narrow, became available at a back-breaking price. How could one create a synagogue on such a site, which seemed to dictate construction on auditorium lines? A Jewish architect, Percival Goodman, found the solution in the traditional Sephardic layout, which calls for a bimah and ark in a clear central area, with facing sections of worshippers. Thus the depth of the lot became its chief advantage. This architecture, much admired ever since, is wholly halakhic. It looks like the last word. And the Ezrat Nashim, the Court of Women in the balcony, is crowded every Shabbat. Tradition sparked the whole thing, and tradition showed how to execute it.
And so, week in and week out, year in and year out, the Fifth Avenue Synagogue has been diffusing tradition in the elegant heart of New York for twenty five years, and Jewish men and women have been davening and learning in the old way. The members and the visitors have become, over the years, a Who's Who of World Jewry.
The pattern is single and clear; Torah Judaism, stepping forth into new times and assuming new leadership tasks. That is, I suggest, the secret of secrets of our tradition; that in all times and places, re-dedication works.