By Jeremy Walsh
Tifereth Israel would be the first temple in Queens to be landmarked. Jewish leaders are hoping it will set a precedent for saving other synagogues as the Jewish population in the borough shrinks.Esther Khaimov, wife of the congregation's rabbi, called the hearing at the city Landmarks Preservation Commission a “beautiful event. “We had lots of support from the local politicians and organizations,” she said. The LPC will vote on the temple Feb. 12.”We're thrilled,” said Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council. “We very much want to preserve the Jewish presence in Queens. There's an awful lot of consolidation of temples recently. It's of concern.”Jeff Gottlieb, president of the Queens Jewish Historical Society, said there were at least 51 synagogues in Queens in 1940, serving a Jewish population that continued to grow through the middle decades of the 20th century. According to research Gottlieb did at the Center for Jewish History, there were 224,000 Jews in the borough in 1950, or 14.5 percent of the population.In 1960, the Jewish population had skyrocketed to 542,000, or 30 percent of Queens residents. After that peak, suburban migration began to take its toll. There were an estimated 186,000 Jews in the borough as of 2000, or 8.5 percent of the population.In 2003, the Flushing Jewish Center merged with the Fresh Meadows Jewish Center. The Flushing Jewish Center's temple was sold to a Korean church. In 2004, three Conservative Jewish synagogues merged to form the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Fresh Meadows.A few congregations are still meeting in historic buildings, Gottlieb said.Congregation Beth Israel in Richmond Hill will celebrate its centennial this year, operating out of a synagogue built in 1915. A secretary there said the congregation has discussed applying for landmark status in the past, but no decision has been made.The Maspeth Jewish Center has been around for at least 110 years, said Rabbi Herbert Richtman. The congregation has operated out of the same temple on Grand Avenue since 1926.Richtman said the landmarking of Tifereth Israel would set a good precedent and hailed the congregation's adaptability.”The synagogue has gone from one ethnic group, Ashkenazi, to another, Bukarian,” he said. “They show a diverse Jewish community.”But Richtman was not sure landmarking is the right move for the Maspeth Jewish Center. He said his congregation has discussed it, but the landmarking presents problems.”The congregation is declining, and then it makes it difficult to dispose of the building,” he said, noting the congregation is 200 strong, but attendance is much lower.Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.