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Congregation Beth David’s Open House

Congregation Beth David, Amenia NY

Congregation Beth David, the synagogue on East Main Street in Amenia, hosted an Open House over the weekend, sponsored by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.  The congregation has received a Landmarks Conservancy grant of $9,000 along with another grant of $5,000 from the David Berg Foundation to renovate the exterior of the building, which will include putting on a new metal roof, a front plaza, and repairs to the brick façade.  

In 2002, just two years before its 75th Anniversary, the temple was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  It is the only synagogue in New York, east of the Hudson River, and north of New York City, to receive this listing.

The idea of the open house was to invite tourists from their own town to explore the history, culture and architecture embodied in this sacred structure.  We were warmly welcomed by Sherry Frankel and her husband who gave us a tour of the building, pointing out some of the highlights, an impressive library, original drawings of traditional Jewish scenes and a hand-lettered plaque with the names of those present for the mortgage burning.  There apparently was no word for ‘mortgage’ in ancient Hebrew so the word had to be written out letter by letter.  We were served delicious chocolate rugalachs from Zabar’s.

While we were there, a New York real estate titan made a sizable contribution to Beth David saying he felt it was important to carry on the temple's heritage for future generations.

The history of the congregation is fascinating.   Congregation Beth David was established in the 1929 by a mix of Jewish dairy farmers who had moved to Amenia from nearby Sharon, Connecticut and Jewish businessmen who had come from New York City to Amenia in order to participate in what promised to become a thriving Jewish resort centering around Lake Amenia. With the railroad enabling New Yorkers to escape the summer heat, half a dozen boarding houses and small hotels that kept kosher kitchens were established in and around Amenia, which, in turn, created a lively business district, including a haberdashery, a pharmacy, a hardware store, and a couple of grocery stores. 

Sam Gorkofsky, at 92, is from one of the original founding families on Ellsworth Hill and still lives in Sharon with a farm that once had a herd of 200 cows.  Some of the names on the plaque of the families who helped pay off the Temple mortgage are those of families whose descendents still  remain in the area and who have made major contributions to the region.

Photos by Antonia Shoumatoff

Nathan Osofsky and his wife Rebecca moved to Amenia from Sharon to open The Grand House Hotel in the center of Amenia. Two of Osofsky’s grandsons, Ronnie and Ric now own and run the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in Ancramdale.  Irving Saperstein opened Saperstein’s Department Store on Main Street in Millerton in 1946 which is still run by his son, Lou.  Jacob Shoifet who served three terms as Mayor of Millerton, was the son of a rabbi and ritual slaughterer who moved to Sharon in 1916 in response to an ad asking for a ritual slaughterer.  Jake who died at 95 last year ran the Gateway Drive-In Restaurant in Millerton, known for its tasty Jewish delicacies.

Other familiar names date back to the early Jewish farmers. Charlie Paley, who owns Paley’s Farm Market on the Sharon Road, is the grandson of Hyman Paley, who came to the area as a dairy farmer around 1920.

Harry Weinstein and Jacob Shoifet were among those who decided to build the synagogue on a small plot of land donated by Bessie and Harry Rosenson on East Main Street in Amenia. The cornerstone for the synagogue was laid on Sunday, May 14, 1929 at a ceremony that brought together several hundred people including the Amenia Town Supervisor, Joseph McEnroe, Rabbi Schwartz from Vassar Temple and Reverend S. W. Steele of the Amenia Presbyterian Church who all expressed  pride in their Jewish neighbors and assuring the audience that intolerance did not exist in Amenia. 

For the next two decades, the synagogue prospered, as did Amenia, due to the Jewish community which contributed to it, both culturally and economically. However,  in the 1950s, changes in vacationing habits, including the development of the Jewish Catskills, led to the eventual decline of Amenia’s summer resorts. The flooding after hurricane Diane in 1955, which destroyed the dam and drained Lake Amenia, sounded the death knell for Amenia’s resort. 

With second-generation members of the Congregation’s founding families leaving Amenia for other pursuits, the Temple’s numbers fell significantly. Originally orthodox, it changed to conservative and eventually to reform Judaism.  It currently serves a mix of weekenders, Jewish students from nearby boarding schools, and local residents, many of whom are retirees.

Saturday services include:

9:30 – 10:15 AM            Hebrew Class
10:30 – 11:30 AM          Worship Service
11:45 – 12:45 PM          Oneg Shabbat and Torah Study

Since 1986, The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program has supported more than 700 religious institutions throughout the state that have received over $8.7 million in matching grants. Sacred Sites is the country’s oldest and largest statewide grant program to help landmark religious properties. 

For more information contact: Sherry.frankel@yahoo.com and conbethdavid.org