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Leaders seek funds to restore Flushing Free Synagogue

The Free Synagogue of Flushing, a rare remnant of the neighborhood’s past, has fallen into disrepair, but its current caretakers are beginning in earnest to pursue its full restoration.

The 82-year-old temple is an example of an increasingly uncommon sight in downtown Flushing, a reminder of the fading prominence of the Jewish population there, as Barone Pizza on Main Street is of the declining visibility of its Italians.

Many local synagogues have left downtown Flushing or shuttered entirely, but this place of worship will remain in the community that has supported it since before the Great Depression, according to the Free Synagogue’s rabbi, Michael Weisser.

“We’re going to do a complete restoration on the building, which is a beautiful historical building — a treasure really — because we’ve made a commitment to stay in Flushing,” he said. “This congregation’s been a center of this downtown Flushing community for so many years, and if we were to leave it would leave a void, so our leadership decided we’re going to stay.”

The windows and opulent ceiling dome of the temple’s spacious sanctuary are made of Czechoslovakian stained glass, but with time they have deteriorated, as have the accompanying plaster artworks and moldings. When a sizable chunk of plaster fell from the dome one recent day when the sanctuary was not in use, crashing among the empty pews, the need to repair the space was put into stark focus, according to Weisser.

So in September synagogue leaders announced the beginning of a multi-faceted fund-raising drive to come up with the estimated $500,000 required for the renovations, which will also include replacing the facility’s roof.

The synagogue is comprised of about 120 member families, according to Carolyn Benke, an administrator, but Weisser said the temple is also looking to non-Jewish community members and various grants to help bolster its coffers.

In coming months, Benke said the synagogue will ramp up its fund-raising, hoping to finish renovating within three years.

“We just started sending out mailings around September, and press releases and public relations,” Benke said. “I’m sure we’re going to do more mailings and I’m hoping to have an event here to raise funds, with politicians and other people attending.”

Weisser is already looking beyond the three-year construction process. He is beginning to further the synagogue’s involvement, outreach and interaction with its neighbors through a series of initiatives, courses and programs.

“We’re just trying to build a coalition of friendship and brotherhood, and it’s really starting to take root,” he said. “We have a really good impetus to do something wonderful here.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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