On Sunday, June 25, the Queens Jewish Center celebrated 80 years since its founding. More than 100 people gathered for their annual Journal Dinner at Simcha Palace in Kew Gardens Hills.
The synagogue was the first Orthodox shul in Forest Hills. First, they rented at 99-07 66th Avenue, where the Jewish Community Center of Queens (“Rabbi Blum’s shul”) currently is. It was known as their “Auxiliary Shul” for a while to their main shul at 66-05 108th Street.
QJC built their Beis Midrash and Talmud Torah classrooms in 1952. In 1955, the Main Shul moved in. Renovations and construction of the Main Shul were completed by 1961, said Herb Schonhaut, gabbai for the past 30 years at QJC.
Rabbi Eliezer Harbater and a dozen families started the synagogue in 1943. Many were drafted into the US military since it was the height of World War II, said Herb Schonhaut.
The first congregants were American-born; coming from Manhattan, the Bronx, and a couple from Jackson Heights, said Jack Nussbaum, past president of the shul. Nussbaum has been coming to the Queens Jewish Center longer than anyone, since October 1946.
Rabbi Judah Kerbel is just the eighth Rabbi in the shul’s history. He lauded the regular learning and minyanim and “the g’milus chasidim we perform for each other and for those outside our community. Our shul has a legendary legacy for the best that Orthodox Judaism has to offer.”
“Celebration in Judaism also includes reflections.”
Rabbi Kerbel tells the story in Parshas Chukas. Miriam’s well of water in the desert stops after her passing. B’nei Yisrael complains. “Moshe Rabbeinu is told to take his staff – talk to the rock.” Moshe lambastes B’nei Yisrael, hits the rock twice, and water emerges, “but Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon that they’re not going to enter Eretz Yisrael.”
There are many explanations “why this episode in particular was the result in Moshe not going to Eretz Yisrael.”
Rabbi Kerbel quotes Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein: “Moshe was not prepared to bring a new generation into Eretz Yisrael.” “The previous generation is gone. It’s a new generation,” said Rabbi Kerbel.
Moshe hit the rock 40 years earlier to get water, which commentators suggest “was the right thing then. Moshe needed a different method to inculcate emunah into the new generation.” “He was not prepared to pivot to adapt to the new needs and circumstances, and that’s where things went wrong.”
“Our test,” said Rabbi Kerbel, “is to think forward, to be able to pivot and adapt to new opportunities that are ahead of us. We are tasked to see things differently, which will allow us to respond to the current moment.” “There’s a future for us to dream about and to plan.”
David Ferstendig, the emcee for the Journal Dinner, introduced “a power couple,” Robert and Tania Materman. Tania accepted the Guest of Honor award and honored her late husband, Robert, a past president and “a doer.”
Robert made structural repairs and replaced all the windows in the shul. “He loved QJC and insisted that I also get involved.”
They organized Super Bowl parties, movie nights, shidduch events, Cantor Arie Rendel and the Men’s Choir performing at the synagogue’s Chanukah parties.
Tania felt blessed saying how the congregation is “here for us in good times and difficult times.”
Nathan Braun said in a speech how Robert Materman “was one of the most kind-hearted, caring, and generous people I ever met.” Braun has known the Matermans for more than 30 years.
For selling Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt’s former home, Community Service Awards went to Lea Ellis and Alla Yukubov of NY Empire Real Estate.
“Their approach is not just about business,” said Rabbi Kerbel. “Their frame of reference: by helping people by doing mitzvos. Making sure that everybody has the right ohel that they can make. An ohel that they can reside along with the Shechinah that they can sanctify for themselves.”
David Ferstendig said they “worked gratis as they handled all aspects of the transaction and solved numerous issues with professional expertise and guidance.” They made “the most beneficial sale for the synagogue.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng sent a letter commending the synagogue’s “steadfast commitment to the community.”
Moshe Davis, Senior Jewish Liaison for Mayor Eric Adams, presented a Citation saying the Mayor “is proud to applaud the Queens Jewish Center and its dedicated members for their unwavering commitment to serving and building a welcoming spiritual home for the community.”
City Councilwoman Lynn Schulman sent a letter honoring the synagogue’s “warm, welcoming, and friendly environment,” and how it is “continuing to play a key role in the larger Jewish community.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz’s letter said how Queens Jewish Center “has not merely survived for 80 years – no small feat in and of itself – but rather it has thrived.”
By David Schneier