This page consists of resources and photos gleaned from the journals put together during the dedication, 25th and 50th anniversaries of the Center, as well as the documents prepared for our 80th anniversary listing on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.
"Any institution, even a Jewish Center, is usually regarded as an impersonal entity and its gender as neuter. Consequently, it is considered incapable of writing an autobiography and man must pen its record, its achievements for posterity. Yet the East Midwood Jewish Center has possessed all the vestiges of life. It was conceived by man, it has a date of birth, it has grown, it has aged, it possesses virility and through its portals, corridors, classrooms and synagogues has flowed a pulsating stream of life.
"It has required nourishment and has reared its young. It has left its mark on the lives of men and women. It has reproduced in its own kind. It is the descendent of and can trace its history to the noblest of all men. It is of a proud family whose members are all over the world.
"Therefore, it must be readily understandable why the task of writing the epic history of the East Midwood Jewish Center is approached with humility and a sharp consciousness of fraility. The inadequacy of the historian cannot detract from its claim to immortality. No pen is sufficiently brilliant to mete out the eulogies, encomiums and paens of praise that should be showered upon our Center upon this occasion of its 25th Anniversary.
"It is a source of comfort to those who seek solace, aid to the needy and inspiration to all men. It was born with a strain of immortality. It is above the crass and mundane of earthly creatures. Its banner may not be stained by man."
- Foreward to the 25th Anniversary Journal, by Seymour B. Liebman.
Eighty-two years ago, in the year 1924, the East Midwood section of Flatbush was an area of widely spaced one-family homes and extensive stretches of open fields; a few apartment houses - not very high ones - dotted the neighborhood. One public school was sufficient to serve the entire district and there was no Brooklyn College as yet - only vacant land. Bedford Avenue was still unpaved. East Midwood was "out in the country." Jewish families who had begun to settle here were deeply concerned that there was no Hebrew school nearby.
Our Center was created out of the commitment of a small group of individuals who came together to establish an institution to provide for the Jewish education, spiritual, and social needs of the area in which they lived. They realized that there is no future in Judaism without strengthening the present. The Center was organized by the union of two groups of men, one led by Louis Birnhak and the other by Max Kappell. These groups met at Mr. Kappell's home on Thursday evening, May 1, 1924, as a result of a call issued by Dr. J. R. Schwartz. Louis Birnhak was elected temporary chairman, Max Kappell temporary treasurer, and Dr. Schwartz, temporary secretary. Dr. Schwartz, who had recently moved into the neighborhood, was concerned over the fact that his sons had no Hebrew School in the immediate vicinity of his home. He interested one or two men in a movement for the organization of a school. They made a house to house canvas to find Jews who might join them. The meeting mentioned above was the climax of their efforts.
The depression of the thirties swept over our country and financial trouble assailed the growing Center. Membership fell and although the annual membership fee was raised, it was insufficient to meet the fiscal requirements. To meet the teachers' payroll, notes were endorsed and mortgage guarantees were executed by a handful of dedicated members. Pews were sold and the Executive Secretary had to be permitted to leave because funds for his salary were not available. As times improved membership began to climb slowly. In 1934 there were 300 members. Ten years later the membership rose to 1100. Adult classes which had been few and sporadic became part of the Center's educational program, courses being offered in Hebrew, religious customs and ceremonies, the Bible and Zionism. To see an EMJC Bulletin from September, 1935, click here.
During the years of World War II the men and women of the Center participated actively in all war efforts and drives. Millions of dollars worth of War Bonds were sold through the Center. Many members contributed to the Blood Banks. Many women volunteered to serve with the Jewish Welfare Board, the Red Cross and the U.S.O. Our boys served in all branches of the country's military forces. Some made the supreme sacrifice.
As a result of the farsighted vision of our Center leaders, we established the East Midwood Day School to be conducted in accordance with conservative ideology; a school that would effectively fill a definite need in our community. The school, which began with only three grades, now has a full eight year program where both Hebrew and secular subjects are taught. In honor of our Rabbi it was renamed the Rabbi Harry Halpern Day School.
The Center, through the years, has made every effort to respond to the needs of its members. During the 1950's the younger married members suggested that social affairs be held and this was the beginning of a very active Social Program. In 1956, the Golden Age Club was started. It was one of the first in the country and for years fulfilled the needs of our senior citizens. In more recent times, our Center has played host to a variety of groups and programs, such as: the Lunch 'n' Learn series, which brings guest speakers to the Center; a series of concerts featuring up-and-coming Jewish bands at our own "Club Oasis"; groups such as the Sisterhood, which continues to feature the Journal Dinner Dance it has sponsored for years; the Kaddish & Men's Club, which organizes informative trips and events; and Younger Families, which continues to bring a new generation of conservative Jews to keep our synagogue running at full speed.
This history is but a brief outline of the difficulties and triumphs that have been ours over the years. Please visit the other sections of our website to see how far we have evolved and how much we have expanded in over 80 years. If you are a member, we hope that you have enjoyed this window into the history of your synagogue - your East Midwood Jewish Center. If you are not yet a member, consider joining today. Membership comes with many perks, which include reduced pricing for synagogue events. Call the Center for more information, or take a look at our full-color membership brochure (PDF, 264k) and membership application (PDF, 104k).