The Agudath Israel of Kew Gardens Hills is celebrating a major milestone marking fifty years being a beacon of harbotzas torah for Queens. The shul continues putting forth children that are mekadesh shem shamayim striving to lead a life of torah and worldly values representing what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century. The seventies were a fascinating era compiled of world-changing events from the Yom Kippur War to Watergate and the Iranian Crisis and influential personalities like Gold Meir, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Begin and Koch dominating the headlines. ParshasMishpatim marks the monumental establishment of what was then known as the Zeirei Agudas Yisroel of Kew Gardens Hills.
Nachum Shmuel Hartman, President of the Agudath Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, expressed feelings of elation to have reach this significant achievement, “It is my bracha to the kehilla to continue strong for another fifty inspiring years.”
The vision began as a modest undertaking by a small group of young men yearning to launch their own minyan in the basement of Khal Machzikei Hadas currently under the leadership of Rabbi Henach Savitsky. Rabbi Yosef Gelernter along with Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, rav emeritus of the Young Israel of KGH encouraged the youth go about and start their own venture in the neighborhood.
With the help of Rabbi Yehoshua (Josh) Silbermintz zt”l of the Agudath Israel of America seven men set out on the path to formulate the new synagogue. Nachum Shmuel Hartman, Aron Kopelowitz, Sruly Orzel, Hersh Yitzchak Reich a”h, Yossi Rottenberg, Zev Unger a”h, and Izzy Zand had quite a journey ahead. Beginning in the basement of Reich’s parents, then to the basement of Kew Gardens Hills resident Arnold Lamm for a few months and later to the barn house originally located on the corner of 150th Street and 70th Road purchased by the Yeshiva of Central Queens. There an agreement was reached for the shul members to pick up the heating and electric bills until the structure was eventually demolished to make way for the present building of the esteemed yeshiva. For its first official summer, the shul took residence in the beis medrash of the Young Israel of Queens Valley. Around that time, Abraham B. Wasserman had purchased the Plaid Stamp Redemption Center located at the site of the current girls’ high school Shevach – Sha’are Bnos Chayil. Then just one floor, the minyan conducted its services there for roughly a year until the construction of YCQ culminated in 1974 allowing the group to transfer back to its home, first in the library and later to the finished beis knesses currently in use by the student body and shul membership to this very day. It was during this transfer that the group opted to drop the zeirei prefix and transition into the Agudath Israel of Kew Gardens Hills as the journey had matured its members. The shul remains the only affiliated Agudah in the Queens area. Much appreciation is extended to the original executive director Rabbi Menachem Rottenberg and presently Rabbi Yaakov Lonner who have each stood by the shul’s respectable evolution as a mainstay of the Kew Gardens Hills’ illustrious history. Nowadays, a core group maintains a daily minyan and daf yomi shiur.
Rabbi Noam Gordon, a KGH local, was the earliest spiritual leader of the congregation. With only the Young Israels of Kew Gardens Hills and Queens Valley in operation along with Rabbi Gelernter, Rabbi Margulies of Congregation Degel Israel and Rabbi Weisel’s Chasam Sofer, the Agudath Israel of Kew Gardens Hills was a sought-after phenomenon for the bustling neighborhood. The minyan quickly flourished and had chairs literally lining the back walls. In 1980 the shul was privileged to appoint the venerable Rav Aliezer Shedrowitzky shlit”a as its morah d’asra. The rav was a true manhig ruchani throughout his 36-year rein and formulated Yeshivas HaMasmidim that serves as a mishmar learning program for boys on Monday nights during the school year in the shul’s main sanctuary. Precisely three years ago, the shul held an elaborate melava malka to honor the rav’s tenure and bestowed upon him the title of Rav Emeritus. Rabbi Moshe Baruch Kaufman shlit”a of Lakewood, NJ grew up in the shul and soon assumed its leadership. Currently with much accolade, Rabbi Moshe Sokoloff shlit”a, a noted lecturer and community maggid shiur leads the congregation with distinction. The presiding morah d’asra added, “Every Shabbos is filled with new experiences and special moments to cherish for a lifetime. I commend the membership on this prestigious occasion and wish many more times of celebration for all.”