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Historic Corona synagogue rejuvenated after $1.6M face-lift

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall (c.) helps to cut the ribbon at Congregation Tifereth Israel. Photo by Rebecca Henely
TimesLedger Newspapers

Corona’s Congregation Tifereth Israel is the oldest standing synagogue in Queens, but after a $1.6 million exterior renovation, the temple is no longer showing its age.

“This is a day that we’ve all been looking forward to for a very long time,” said Borough President Helen Marshall.

The synagogue, at 109-18 54th Ave., was once covered in a white stucco that held in moisture, which allowed its wooden window frames to rot.

Yet after a groundbreaking in June 2011 in which participants tapped a gold hammer against the outside wall, that stucco exterior was replaced with sky blue siding. The temple, which was built a century ago, also has new insulation and windows.

The restoration had long been a dream project of Esther Khaniov, wife of Tifereth Israel’s leader Rabbi Amnun Khainov.

“I cannot talk,” Esther Khaniov said before the ribbon-cutting Oct. 24. “I am too excited.”

Funding for the $1.6 million renovation came in large part from Marshall, who pitched in $1.1 million, but many other public and private sources put up money as well. The private New York Landmarks Conservancy oversaw the project through its Sacred Sites program, which rehabilitates houses of worship.

Conservancy President Peg Breen said while the renovation was done and completed in more than a year, the organization had worked with the synagogue for about a decade to get the project done.

“It’s not often that I see a building that has been so transformed,” Breen said.

Tifereth Israel was originally built by Jews who came to Corona from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, said Harold Baron, a temple member. Cosmetics giant Estee Lauder and her family once counted themselves among the members. The design was based on the synagogues popular in that neighborhood.

“It’s sort of like a mini grand synagogue,” Baron said.

As Buhkarian Jews began moving into LeFrak City, they ended up going to Tifereth Israel. Baron said many of the members were blue-collar workers with little secular or religious education who had been kicked out of their home countries.

“This synagogue was an answer to what they were looking for,” he said.

While the exterior renovation has given the 101-year-old temple, in Marshall’s words, “a new life,” more work needs to be done. The interior of the temple needs a major renovation, one which cannot be paid for through public funds due to religious exemptions.

Arnold Goldstein, a donor for the exterior exemption, said he wanted to help with the interior and urged the conservancy to get it done.

“Peg,” he told the president, “finish the job.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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