Friday, November 20, 2015
Where in New York can you find a cool shul with warm people that caters to comedians and actors? At 339 West 47th Street. It's the Actors' Temple.
Ezrath Israel was originally established as a Jewish Community Center in 1917 by the West Side Hebrew Relief Association, a group of Orthodox Jewish shop owners. The area was known for its busy steamship ports, however, the entertainment business eventually became one of the biggest industries in this part of town. As show business grew, so did the number of congregants, and it became the place of worship for many prominent actors and performers, including Sophie Tucker and Shelley Winters.
The Actors' Temple continued to thrive until shortly after WWII when people in the industry began journeying across the country to Hollywood. The synagogue then found its membership slowly decreasing. By 2005, there were only twelve members left in the congregation. A year later, when Jill Hausman became the rabbi, she found herself resuscitating what had once been a proud shul. Rabbi Hausman was pleased to report to us that in the eight years that she has been there, membership has increased to about 150, a marked improvement. Still, she has hope that the Actors' Temple will continue to grow. “We are a well-kept secret,” she says, “but we don’t need to be.”
To help maintain the synagogue, the sanctuary is shared with an Off Broadway theater company that performs on their “stage,” just a few feet in front of their sacred arc and collection of eleven torahs. Today, Rabbi Hausman welcomes all denominations of Judaism, even those who are “on the fringes of society.” She is a warm, sweet, bright woman who not only has her door open to everyone, but her heart as well. She emphasizes the importance of love and acceptance in her sermons and is adamant that the Actors' Temple is a “no-guilt synagogue.” People should come if they feel compelled to pray – Rabbi Hausman’s only goal is to have them leave with a desire to return.
Members of the Actors' Temple have included Sophie Tucker, Red Buttons, Al Jolson, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Eddie Cantor, Shelley Winters, Edward G. Robinson, and the Three Stooges.
If you walk into their Shabbat service, you'll probably hear something like this version of Adon Olam.
Enjoy and Shabbat shalom!
(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS: THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS. YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)