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Central Synagogue

New York Synagogues: Past and Present

Images of synagogues in NYC with 3 shabbat songs : 1) YEDID NEFESH……Yehoram Gaon, 2) LECHA DODI……..Shlomo Carlebach and 3) SHALOM ALEICHEM…Giora Feidman. Written by Rabbi Israel Najara, one of the Kabbalists of Safed. It is a love song to God. Beloved of my soul, merciful Father, draw Your servant towards You. Let Your servant run as a hind to bow before Your glory. Let Your affection for him be sweeter than a honeycomb or any other delicacy. Glorious one, most beautiful splendor of the world, my soul is sick with love for You. Please, God, heal it by revealing the light of your splendor. Then it will be invigorated and healed, enjoying everlasting happiness. Ancient One, let Your mercy be aroused and have pity on Your beloved child. For I have yearned for so long to see Your mighty splendor. This is the desire of my heart; have pity and do not hide Yourself. Beloved, reveal Yourself and spread over me the shelter of Your peace. Let the earth sparkle with your glory; we will rejoice and be happy with You. Be quick, Beloved, for the time has come; favor us as in days of old.”

250px-Central_Synagogue_Lex_jehLooking west across Lexington Avenue and 55th at the Central Synagogue. (January 2010)

The Central Synagogue (Congregation Ahavath Chesed) is located at 652 Lexington Avenue on the corner of E 55th StreetManhattanNew York CityNew York. Built in 1872 in the Moorish Revival style as a copy of Budapest‘s Dohány Street Synagogue, it pays homage to the Jewish existence in Moorish Spain.  It has been in continuous use by a congregation longer than any other in the city.  The building was designed by Henry Fernbach.

The dramatic style of the building was the subject of much debate during the construction. Some felt its excess would inspire envy and stand in the way of assimilation.

It is among the oldest synagogue buildings still standing in the United States.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 15, 1975.  On Wednesdays at 12:45 p.m. a docent conducts a free tour, which begins at the front entrance.

The building was restored by 2001 in the original style after an accidental fire in August 1998.  The roof and its supports were destroyed as a result of the fire. During this fire, the firefighter’s sensitivity for the building saved all but the central pane in the rose window that dominates the eastern (Lexington Avenue) wall. The marble plaques on the north wall of the foyer honor the firefighters of the 8th Battalion of the New York City Fire Department.

The synagogue owns the Salem Fields Cemetery, Brooklyn.


Sensitive to the evolving interests and needs of the Reform community, Central Synagogue explores both traditional and alternative modes of prayer. In addition to daily morning minyan, Shabbat and holiday services, and celebrations of lifecycle events, Central Synagogue offers havurot (Jewish study groups), Tot Shabbat and Tyke Shabbat for children, and healing and community services. Interfaith celebrations include an annual community Thanksgiving and Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day.) Other special services include the annual Shofar Award Shabbat, which honors a Jew of distinction and inspiration. Past recipients include journalist David Halberstam and James Ingo Freed, architect of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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