invites you to visit the

 Flatbush Avenue Synagogue

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Congregation Sons of Israel, Brooklyn, New York, 1921


  Enter into the synagogue and hear  Cantor Yoelson singing "Kol Nidre." Just left-click on the synagogue door.



Congregation Sons of Israel, Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 1921


Public School  >>


Flatbush Avenue

Public School No. 109,
Brooklyn, New York

Lower East Side

The Loew's Pitkin,
Brooklyn, New York

Tenement of the
Lower East Side

Congregation Sons of Israel was designed in a Classical Revival style in 1920. It catered to the more affluent Jewish community and had Jewish leaders of note speak to its congregation, e.g. the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Abraham Kook, Chaim Weizmann, and poet Chaim Bialik. Unfortunately the synagogue was hit by arsonists in 1964 and Torahs and prayerbooks were destroyed. The next year it was rebuilt and now serves the surrounding neighborhood of Russian immigrants.

What is a synagogue? Technically it is simply a structure where at least ten Jews assembly regularly for prayer. There are, however, some Halachic or rabbinical prescriptions of architectural details:

• The synagogue should be the tallest building in the city. This requirement is qualified in "difficult" situations such as when the Jews are the minority of the city's population.

• The synagogue should have windows to allow worshippers to see the heavens and achieve a suitable fame of mind for prayer. The windows also permit the worshippers to know whether it is time for morning or evening prayers. The windows should face Jerusalem. According to one source, there should be twelve windows, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel.

• The synagogue must have an Ark, containing the Torah scrolls, placed against the wall facing Jerusalem usually the eastern wall). Sometimes the plot plan in urban conditions prohibit the Ark from being located long the eastern wall of the building. Several older synagogue structures have therefore been designed with the Ark facing the northern, southern and even the western wall. The term for Ark according to the Ashkenazic Jews is Aron Kodesh and Heichal accordi­ng to Sephardic Jews.

Maimonides or the Rambam rules that the reading platform must be located in the center of the sanctuary so that the congregation should be able to hear the reading of the Torah. This was the customary practice until the Haskalah or Enlightenment of the early nineteenth century in Germany. The German Reform movement designed its synagogues and temples with the reading platform placed along the eastern or Ark wall. Eventually, it became the actual platform on which the Ark stood. The rabbis of Hungary and Galicia initially put a ban (chayrem) on this practice but it spread and was adopted even among some Orthodox congregations. The Sephardic term for read­ing platform is tebah or alememar and bimah accord­ing to the Ashkenazic Jews.

  • The traditional synagogue contains a separate sec­tion for women, in accordance with the practice in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

  • The synagogue contains an Eternal Light or ner tamid, symbolic of the continuously burning lamp in the Temple.

  • The Biblical injunction against representational art has created several interpretations about synagogue art. The Orthodox do permit sculptural reliefs around the Ark, two dimensional murals on walls and ceilings, and stained-glass windows portraying lions, eagles and deer as well as the signs of the zodiac. These images are artistic interpretations of howl a Jew should serve his or her Maker as portrayed in the Pirkay Avos or Ethics of Our Fathers: "One should be as strong as a lion, light as an eagle and swift as a deer ... " The signs of the zodiac have Kabbalistic interpretations and have been incorporated in the old prayerbooks called machzor kol bo (holiday prayerbooks with Yiddish transla­tions). The zodiac symbols appear during the special prayers for rain and dew (geshem and tal) during the holidays of Shmini Atzeres and Passover.

The Conservative and Reform allow the portrayal of two-dimensional images of the human form in murals and stained-glass windows. No group, however, permits the portrayal of a three-dimensional human form in the synagogue.*

Photos courtesy of the New York Public Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy.
* -- from "Synagogues of New York City" by Oscar Israelowitz, 2000.


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