Our Mission & History
Park Avenue Synagogue seeks to inspire, educate, and support our membership towards living passion-filled Jewish lives. Through spirited prayer, study, observance and acts of kindness we aspire to foster deep connections with each other, our Torah, our God, the people and State of Israel and our shared humanity. In practicing a Judaism filled with love, literacy, reverence, compassion, and joy, we strive to make our ancient tradition compelling and welcoming to contemporary Jewry and to serve as a light unto our fellow Jews and the nations.
The Park Avenue Synagogue – Agudat Yesharim, The Association of the Righteous – is a Conservative congregation founded in 1882. From modest and humble beginnings, it has grown into one of the major congregations in the Conservative movement.
In 1882, a group of German-speaking Jews founded a synagogue and named it Temple Gates of Hope. A church building at 115 East 86th Street was converted into a synagogue which was soon known as the Eighty-Sixth Street Temple. Some twelve years after its founding, the synagogue joined together with Congregation Agudat Yesharim, which became the Hebrew name of the merged congregation. (The name is engraved in the cornerstone of the PAS school building at the corner of Madison Avenue and 87th Street.) The sermons in the congregation were still preached in German.
Later amalgamations were to come. A nearby synagogue, the Seventy-Second Street Temple, was itself a product of the earlier merger of two congregations that had had their beginnings on the Lower East Side in the 1840’s, Beth Israel and Bikkur Cholim. After they combined, they moved uptown to Lexington Avenue and 72nd Street and in 1920 this congregation joined with the Eighty-Sixth Street Temple, Agudat Yesharim.
In 1923 the Eighty-Sixth Street Temple petitioned the State of New York to have its name changed to the Park Avenue Synagogue. Three years later a new sanctuary was constructed on 87th Street, dedicated in March of 1927. This is our present sanctuary. In 1928 the last of the mergers took place when Atereth Israel, a congregation of Alsatian Jews who worshipped in their building on East 82nd Street, added their strength to the Park Avenue Synagogue.
The congregation has met the challenges of time with constant change and growth. As the congregation grew, there were new needs, and they were met. In 1954, a new building, the Milton Steinberg House, was dedicated to the memory of the late distinguished spiritual leader, Rabbi Milton Steinberg, to serve the community and the religious school. With the passing of time, however, and the burgeoning of the Upper East Side as a major Jewish community, the facilities of the Milton Steinberg House were no longer adequate to meet the demands of the ever-growing religious school. The dream for another new building was coupled with another idea – to make this building a living memorial to the more than one million Jewish children who were slaughtered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Dedicating the new school building to the memory of the murdered children would give them a meaningful immortality. The building would serve to assure the Jewish future by providing a space for new generations of knowledgeable and proud Jews to learn about their heritage. Though they cannot bring back the million Jewish children who perished, these young Jews would still rob the Nazis of their hoped-for victory – the final solution. The traditions, the history, the insights, and the wisdom of our precious heritage will be preserved and raised to new heights by educating generations of Jewish children who will carry their faith with pride.
The dedications of the building and of the sculptures memorializing the martyred children took place on two memorable days – December 1 and December 8, 1980, the week of Hanukkah – a high point in the annals of the Congregation’s history.
During the first fifty years in the history of the present congregation, eight rabbis served as its spiritual leaders. In 1933 Rabbi Milton Steinberg and Cantor David J. Putterman came to the Park Avenue Synagogue, which now became a Conservative congregation. Rabbi Steinberg served seventeen years and Cantor Putterman forty-three years. In 1957, Rabbi Judah Nadich became the spiritual leader of the congregation. He was joined by Cantor David Lefkowitz in 1976. Rabbi David H. Lincoln, our present Rabbi Emeritus, began in 1987, and retired in the summer of 2008. Rabbi Kenneth A. Stern served our Congregation from 1996 through the end of June 2008. In July 2008 Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove began serving our Congregation as Senior Rabbi, with Rabbi Steven I. Rein becoming our Assistant Rabbi in the summer of 2009. Cantor Nancy Abramson joined our Clergy in 1997 and served the Congregation until June, 2011, when she became Director of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Cantor Azi Schwartz came to Park Avenue Synagogue in August, 2011, as Cantor and Music Director.
The synagogue building is Moorish in architecture with one of the most beautiful cast stone facades in New York. The interior of the sanctuary provides seating for 1200 during the High Holy Days. Moorish decoration is used throughout, from Arabesque dadoes to a “mugarnas” design for the octagonal domed ceiling. The sanctuary, designed by architect Walter Schneider in 1926, marks the end of a period beginning in Europe in the 1850’s when the Moorish style was often used for synagogues. For this and many other facets, the building has definite historical significance.The synagogue boasted of 240 members when it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Today, after celebrating our 125th anniversary, Park Avenue Synagogue has approximately 1,500 families and is considered one of the leading Conservative congregations in the country.