Stained glass adorns Flushing synagogue for holidays

Photo by Maria Lopez
By Rebecca Henely

The Free Synagogue of Flushing, the oldest Reform Jewish temple in Queens, dedicated its new stained glass windows Sunday with prayers and Hanukkah songs.

“It sort of announces to the world that the synagogue is here and still growing and intends to remain here,” said Jeff Boyar, chairman of the temple’s house committee.

The temple, at 41-60 Kissena Blvd., has been undergoing an extensive renovation for the last two to three years. Boyar said the new windows, on the south side of the temple near Sanford Avenue, are the latest part of the ongoing repairs for the house of worship, which was built in 1927.

The three windows are decorated with biblical scenes and Jewish symbols such as the Star of David, the four species of plants used in the Sukkot prayer and the two hands of the priestly blessing, which many know as Spock’s “Live Long and Prosper” hand symbol from “Star Trek.”

“I think anything that adds to the beauty of the experience is always a plus,” Boyar said, “and there’s a timelessness about them, too.”

Boyar said the new windows, which cost $100,000 to renovate, were originally scheduled to be finished before the High Holy Days, but the wet summer delayed their completion. At one point, the New Jersey office of Scott Imhoff, who was doing the restoration, was flooded during Hurricane Irene.

“At least we were able to get it around the time of Hanukkah,” Boyar said.

After the dedication, temple members performed songs which told the story of Hanukkah. The holiday, celebrated for eight days, is traditionally said to commemorate the victory of a Jewish revolt against Greek King Antiochus, who desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. When the Jews recovered the Temple, they only had enough oil to light the temple menorah for one day, but the oil lasted instead for eight days.

The Free Synagogue at one point boasted 500 students in its Sunday school, but as the demographics of Flushing have changed from having a substantial Jewish population to mostly Asian residents, the synagogue’s core has diminished in numbers.

Nevertheless, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), who came to the dedication of the windows along with City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and city Comptroller John Liu, said the synagogue has always been welcoming to all types of people.

“It’s a place where people come together in downtown Flushing,” Stavisky said.

Koo said the synagogue often lets Asian groups use its space.

“I’m very happy the rabbi is doing a lot of outreach,” he said.

The rabbi of the synagogue, Reb. Michael Weisser, became the temple leader in 2008 after working as a cantor in a congregation in Nebraska. While there, he ended up turning around a Ku Klux Klan member who was harassing him. Moved by Weisser’s message of friendship, the Klan member, Larry Trapp, renounced hate and converted to Judaism. Weisser’s story was published in the book “Not By the Sword” by Kathryn Watterson.

Weisser said in his prayer dedicating the windows that they were for the congregation and from the congregation.

“May the light that shines through them inspire us to greater fidelity,” Weisser said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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