By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis, Nikolsburger Rebbe of Boro Park and Woodbourne, has issued a call to all who come to the Catskills for the summer to assist him in strengthening the miraculous achievements in reopening and energizing the Woodbourne Shul. Rabbi Jungreis has gone into contract to acquire the shul and needs $120,000 to close on the facility. That is in addition to the $80,000 or more required to operate the shul to serve the Catskills’ Jewish summer residents and visitors with his unique warm embrace.
Woodbourne history. Woodbourne is classified as a hamlet in the town of Fallsburg, NY. Woodbourne, due north of Fallsburg on Route 42, intersects with route 52. In the mid 1800s, Medad T. Morss of Woodbourne established his tannery in Livingston Manor at a juncture named Morsston. Livingston Manor was established in 1879. The section north of Livingston Manor was called Purvis and the section to the south was called Morsston. The first railroad station in the area was called Morsston, all in honor of Medad T. Morss, probably Woodbourne’s then most distinguished citizen.
Currently, during the summer months, Woodbourne has a dramatic population increase with the influx of observant Jews from all over the greater New York metropolitan area. Woodbourne’s businesses thrive from before the July 4th weekend through the Labor Day weekend. The adjacent months are also busy times for the area with its stores serving those who open up and close down summer camps, bungalow colonies, and area hotels.
The Woodbourne Correctional Facility. Established in 1934, the Woodbourne Correctional Facility, both a medium- and maximum-security institution, presently houses almost 800 inmates with a staff of approximately 400. In 1995, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was convicted in the controversial case of kidnapping Shai Fhima, a 12-year-old boy who was placed in his care for bar mitzvah preparations. Rabbi Helbrans was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison. His sentence was reduced to 2 years, of which he was in prison for one full year before he was allowed out on work-release. Part of his prison time was spent in the Woodbourne Correctional facility. During his time there, many rabbis visited Rabbi Helbrans.
I visited in November of 1995. While in the visiting room, I purchased some kosher items for Rabbi Helbrans from the prison vending machines. I was dumbfounded to see the vending machines full with Mayim Chaim sodas and Paskesz kosher candies. Seeing non-Jewish inmates and their visitors of various ethnicities consuming kosher sodas and candies befuddled me. When I inquired as to how many observant Jews were in the facility, Rabbi Helbrans indicated that he was the only one. He told us that vending machine operators in the Catskills stocked their machines during the summer months with the kosher sodas and candies for the summer influx of observant Jews. However, after the summer, their leftover supply of kosher sodas and candies were placed into their year-round active vending machines, some of which were in the prison.
Center of the Catskills. In years past, various groups of rabbis issued proclamations seeking to prohibit vacationers from visiting Woodbourne, especially during Motzaei Shabbos and Sunday evening, when large crowds develop. Being on the crossroads in the very center of the Catskills, traffic would build at such times to a magnitude requiring two police officers to be stationed at every crossing. All through the day and even after midnight, visitors would meet with new and old friends.
Throughout the years, Hakol Besefer at 443 Main Street (845-434-2626) was an oasis of Yiddishkeit. In addition to being a traditional full-service sefarim store, it always has thousands of Judaica items, from books to toys. During the summer season, Hakol Besefer seems to be open 24/6 and always ready to serve.
The following qualified rabbis are ready to respond to inquiries. Do not hesitate to call. They are, in alphabetical order: Rabbi Avrohom Zvi Friedman, Galanta Dayan, 347-684-3025; Rabbi Yosef Chaim Moskowitz, Shotzer Rav, 845-436-8604; Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Shneibalg, Chernowitzer Rav, 845-434-2568; and Rabbi Yosef Dovid Shneibalg, Chernowitzer Dayan, 718-855-7701.
The Woodbourne Shul. The B’nai Israel Synagogue, with its signature outdoor menorah, originally was organized in 1918 on Route 42 and was built in 1922. Through its long existence, the shul served its Orthodox community throughout the year, especially during the busy summer months. Rabbi Nachum Laskin, zt’l (1939–2010), renowned as the chaplain of the Otisville Correctional Center since its inception in 1981, served as Rav in Woodbourne until approximately 1990, when he was elected to the pulpit of Congregation Ahavas Torah in Monroe. Rabbi Menachem Boaz succeeded Rabbi Laskin as Rav of the Woodbourne Shul.
About 2000, Rabbi Boaz moved to Lakewood and the Woodbourne Shul slowly ebbed to a standstill. The board of B’nai Israel Synagogue must be applauded for their many years of preserving the facility, although the shul had not been fully utilized for years.
In the prelude to the summer of 2010, Rabbi Mordechai Jungreis, beloved Nikolsburger Rebbe of Boro Park, through protracted negotiations with the shul’s board of directors, assumed leadership of the Woodbourne Shul. During the regular school year, Rabbi Jungreis serves as the popular pre-1A rebbe in Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, where he has infused thousands of children with passionate Yiddishkeit. In addition, Rabbi Jungreis leads Beis Medrash Khal Chassidei Nikolsburg—Kollel Boro Park at 4912 16th Avenue in Boro Park. There, Rabbi Jungreis exerts a powerful magnetic pull on chassidishe children at risk with astonishing success.
For summer 2012, the historic Woodbourne Shul, under the leadership of the Nikolsburger Rebbe, issued an emergency cry for help in finalizing preparations to serve the entire Catskills and beyond. The Department of Buildings had determined that the shul’s roof, built in 1922, was no longer safe. Astoundingly, a simple calculation of the number of daily minyanim, including Shabbos and Sundays, and the average number of mispallelim at each minyan, revealed that the shul had upwards of 60,000 visits during the past summer.
As an official historic building—on January 15, 1999, a decade before its present transformation, the B’nai Israel Synagogue of Woodbourne was added to the National Register of Historic Places—the shul needed skilled expert workmanship to restore the roof to meet the safety codes required by the Department of Buildings.
The roof work was completed, but its cost was daunting. Though much emotional and spiritual support has been, and continues to be, radiated outward from the shul by the Nikolsburger Rebbe, the Shul needed critical financial support. The cost of the roof and related expenses totaled more than $100,000, a sum that was needed immediately. Being so close to the summer and the opening of the shul, completing the roof work was an emergency.
Needless to mention, the regular financial burden of providing the shul’s warm setting was, and continues to be, considerable. Those wishing to use their tzedakah dollars most effectively should consider helping underwrite this particularly noble effort. Assuming a share in the tefillos and Torah learning that take place at the Woodbourne Shul will surely reverberate in Heaven and will be rewarded manifold. Those having a yahrzeit in the Catskills now have a shul where a minyan is guaranteed.
Chassidim of Rabbi Jungreis have freshened and upgraded the shul. In addition, they rented a home across the street for the Nikolsburger Rebbe’s summer residence. The shul’s doors have opened wide and the first weekday Shacharis minyan is before 6:00 a.m., with another minyan beginning almost every 15 minutes. Minchah begins as early as 1:30 p.m., and every 15 minutes thereafter; Maariv begins at nightfall and every 15 minutes thereafter. Every day, simultaneous minyanim are under way upstairs, downstairs, and outside the front door.
With the downstairs beautifully refurbished and turned into a large second beis midrash, the shul easily accommodates more than one minyan at a time. The last minyan for weekday Maariv has been regularly clocked at past 2:30 a.m.
On Shabbos, the Nikolsburger Rebbe leads tefillos and tisch in the shul. The Motzaei Shabbos grand melaveh malkah that lasts beyond the regular Havdallah time draws large crowds and is appreciated not only by those living nearby, but by those that manage to arrive there in time to catch some of it.
Another critical ingredient that Rabbi Jungreis has introduced is a constant smorgasbord of cake, nosh, and drinks (hot and cold) set out at all times. In addition, during late afternoon and evening hours, delicious chulent and kugel are served. Rabbi Jungreis thus generously provides edible as well as spiritual nourishment.
As more and more sefarim are being brought into the shul, the facility now offers visitors to Woodbourne a retreat where they can learn their Daf Yomi, Mishna, Gemara, Chumash, or Shulchan Aruch daily shiur, all mere steps away from the hustle and bustle of Main Street while wives or children are shopping nearby. The opening of the shul 24/7 has had a profound effect on Woodbourne. Seeing people on Main Street rush to catch a minyan at all hours, no longer can anyone imagine that rabbis once issued any ban limiting visits there. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the Rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at email@example.com.