History

Origins

The original congregation was started in 1941 as a local minyan, led by several prominent Syrian Jewish families in a residential home located at 1756 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. Early in its development, the synagogue generally maintained around 75 worshippers. However, during the High Holy Days, attendance swelled to 750 congregants at a nearby hall called Aperion Manor, a few blocks away at 815 Kings Highway due to space constraints at the home. The high attendance indicated to community leaders that a large central structure was needed for the growing crowds. On March 24, 1951, six leaders from the Shaare Zion committee met to discuss the acquisition of land for such a synagogue. They decided on a plot of land on Ocean Parkway and between Avenues T and U – the current site of the building. The same year, they purchased the land and later in 1953, architectural plans were drawn up for the present structure.

Construction

To finance the cost of construction, the community had, since 1941, already amassed a fund of $250,000. But soon after construction got underway, the building fund was entirely depleted and the whole project was nearly aborted due to lawsuits regarding a shortage of capital for the project. In 1957, several financial pledge drives were orchestrated to raise necessary funds to begin work on the building. The house quickly sold for $90,000 to a commercial realtor (eventually becoming part of an apartment complex) and the committee members were able to draw on the funds to continue construction for the central dome and the rest of the synagogue. In September 1958, Congregation Shaare Zion moved into the unfinished social hall for holiday prayers, while construction continued through 1960. Designed by renowned architect Morris Lapidus and completed in 1960, the structure includes a main sanctuary that can seat over 400 worshipers.

Design

The eloquent design of the main sanctuary presented a unique challenge to engineers and architects. The engineering of the magnificent curved balcony, which blends harmoniously with the dome, drew an objection from the NYC Building Department. The department demanded that 20 supporting columns be installed to hold up the balcony. With assurances from their own engineers, the committee resisted the order since it would mar the structure’s beauty. The balcony had been carefully designed with no visible supports because it was to be cantilevered off the main structure, which was engineered to be strong enough to maintain the balcony’s fully loaded weight. Erected in the rear section of the property was a banquet hall used for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and other social functions. Popularly known as the Social Hall, this facility was also used on Shabbat as an additional space for prayers. The main sanctuary of Shaare Zion opened for 2,100 congregants on the High Holy Days in 1960. The dome, banquet room, terrace room in the basement, and midrash upstairs were all utilized.

The roof of the dome constructed of concrete reinforced with steel rods; is extremely strong and has remained intact since its completion. The roof received a coat of white paint in 1993. In addition, the seats have been reupholstered, their wood trims renewed and carpeting replaced numerous times. The carpeting is regularly replaced every few years, whenever it appears worn, according to the office staff. David Eliahu Cohen, chairman of the building committee in the 1950s commented, "There were never any leaks in the roof or in the structure,". He went on to add, "In 1990, 30 years after the building was completed, two panes of the glass wall in the dome had become weathered. “We replaced two glass panes. That's it,". Even the stone-studded wall covering that was installed in 1985 remains in good condition to this day.

Expansion

In January 1990, the congregation bought the house next door, on the north side of the building. Renovations were completed a year later, in 1991. Known as the Annex Building, it is used for daily prayers and Torah study. The building also contains office space. In 1996, extensive renovations were done to Social Hall area of the building. The hall was demolished, and a new more modern banquet hall was built in its place. Additionally, a new synagogue building known as B'nei Shaare Zion capable of seating upwards of 250 worshipers, a Beth midrash with dual use as a prayer space on an upper level, and a secondary synagogue along with several meeting rooms on a lower level were built as well. During the 2000s, restoration work was carried out on the dome of the main sanctuary after forty years of continuous exposure to the elements.

 

Tue, June 27 2017 3 Tammuz 5777