“So much of this is remnants of the war,” a former member of this synagogue told me once. He believed that the number of Holocaust survivors who were members, who found spiritual refuge in this place, was one reason Congregation Shaare Zedek (here 1955-2006) kept going as long as it did. As Purim – the annual festival observed this weekend – and Passover, both celebrating the deliverance of Jews from persecution, approach, it’s worth thinking about this synagogue as a place of shelter.
This building provided a spiritual home for immigrants and refugees in both its Reform and Orthodox incarnations. After the Nazis came to power, Temple Beth El (on this site from 1911-54 and traditionally a largely German Jewish congregation) and its rabbi, William Braude, worked to bring refugees to the United States. One German emigre, the composer Heinrich Schalit, served for five years as its music director. And while we don’t have exact numbers, there certainly were refugees and survivors who attended services at Shaare Zedek throughout much of its existence.
Today, while many migrants and refugees to this traditionally immigrant neighborhood in this immigrant city come from other places – from Cambodia to El Salvador to Liberia – and from other religious traditions, other religious and community spaces serve similar functions. They can be places of celebration, grief, joy, devotion in spite of everything – like the single, crinkled prayer book page with the Mourner’s Kaddish, proclaiming faith in spite of loss, found inside this building.
Purim is supposed to commemorate “the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning into a good day” (Esther 9:22). We hope that in future, a revitalized 688 Broad can help contribute to joy as a center for community – for people of all faiths or no faith. But no building can accomplish this by itself. After all, as another interviewee pointed out, a building is four walls. The community makes the refuge.
On another Purim note, please join us this Sunday for the Friends of the Broad Street Synagogue’s celebration! The event will be held at the Westfield Lofts, 230 Dexter Street, from 1-2:30 and will include holiday snacks, kids’ games, and a special guest storyteller. Bring a Purim costume! All ages, faiths, and backgrounds are welcome.
Finally, a few more artifacts from the synagogue. Special thanks to María Quintero, Erendina Delgadillo, Adrian Moore, and Shana Weinberg.