Woodside Jewish Center Gift to OU Serves as Model for Aging Synagogues

11 May 2012


At the luncheon honoring the leaders of the Woodside Jewish Center for their gift to the Orthodox Union, from left:
First row: Ralph Schloss, President, Woodside Jewish Center; Frank Buchweitz, OU National Director of Community Services and Special Projects;
Back row: David Frankel, Chief Operating Officer, OU; Paul Glasser, Senior Director of Institutional Advancement, OU; OU President Dr. Simcha Katz; Murray Steiner, Chairman of the Board, Woodside Jewish Center

In 1928, when Babe Ruth ruled the baseball world, the economy was booming, and Jews were moving in great numbers to Queens, one of New York’s five boroughs, the Woodside Jewish Center was founded. An Orthodox Union member synagogue, it thrived for decades, providing spiritual sustenance to the hundreds of members comprising its hard-working community. A large group of high rise apartment buildings across bustling Queens Boulevard served as a feeder for the shul, bolstering its membership.

Then, the demographic genie that had escaped from the bottle in so many other Jewish neighborhoods made its presence felt, in stages, at Woodside. An aging population at the high rises had problems crossing Queens Boulevard. The synagogue sold its building on the Boulevard and moved to a side street, occupying what was once a doctor’s office. Not far away was the busy station of the Long Island Railroad, through which thousands of commuters pass every day on their way to and from Manhattan. But it was all quiet at the synagogue; there were assets, but not people. Now, the Woodside Jewish Center is gone.

The memory of the synagogue will live on, however, thanks to a generous gift of the remaining assets of the shul to the Orthodox Union, to support its programs in Israel, both at the Seymour J. Abrams Jerusalem World Center, and through programs visiting Israel, such as NCSY’s The Jerusalem Journey, for teenagers from public high schools.

At a luncheon held at OU headquarters, Ralph Schloss, Woodside Jewish Center President, and Murray Steiner, Chairman of the Board, were joined by OU President Dr. Simcha Katz, Managing Director Rabbi Steven Burg, Chief Operating Officer David Frankel, Senior Director of Institutional Advancement Paul Glasser, and Frank Buchweitz, National Director of Community Services and Special Programs. It was Frank Buchweitz who had made the original contact with Mr. Schloss and Mr. Steiner more than five years ago.

Anticipating the eventual demise of their synagogue, when the Woodside leaders asked Mr. Buchweitz for a reduction of their OU membership fee because of hardship – which he granted – they also asked him if he knew of any organization in Israel to receive the remaining assets. “Look no further,” he told them. “You’ve come to the right place.”

Woodside Jewish Center as a Model

Over the ensuing years, that message wasn’t forgotten, leading eventually to the gift and to the thank you luncheon. Mr. Glasser, who is responsible for OU development, and who warmly greeted the guests from Queens, believes that Woodside Jewish Center’s actions should serve as a model for other, aging synagogues to contribute their assets to the OU – not just for its Israel programs, but for its wide variety of activities involving teens; college students; alumni of OU programs; those with disabilities and the deaf; and for the support of community-oriented programming such “Positive Jewish Parenting” and “Positive Jewish Marriages.”

“The synagogue will designate how it wants the assets to be used,” Mr. Glasser explained. “It is always very sad when a shul dies, but just like the death of a person can lead to much charitable giving, the end of the life of a synagogue can open a wide array of opportunities to perpetuate the shul’s name and identity. Woodside Jewish Center has led the way in this respect and we are grateful to Mr. Schloss and Mr. Steiner for their wisdom and foresight.”

At the luncheon, a video was shown of public school teens enjoying themselves immensely on NCSY’s popular summer program, The Jerusalem Journey. “TJJ travels to every nook and cranny of Israel to develop a connection between the teens and the country and its people,” explained David Cutler, Director of NCSY Summer Programs. “Israel is the most powerful tool to develop Jewish affiliation.”

Mr. Glasser added, “From this program, the teens develop a new focus on Israel. It will change their world.” Fortifying that message, OU President Dr. Simcha Katz said to the donors, “The legacy of your shul will find new life through the Orthodox Union in Israel.”

The benefactors from Woodside had the last word. “I was so impressed with Frank Buchweitz the first time we met that I’m so happy we’re doing this,” said Mr. Steiner. Mr. Schloss then told a luncheon participant, “Be sure not to invest this money in the stock market.” “Certainly not,” he was told. “We put it into a no-risk investment, the OU in Israel.”

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