Every week, Sunnyside Jewish Center, the community’s sole conservative synagogue, struggles to reach the 10-man threshold. The synagogue follows the orthodox tradition that women, including the four present today, do not count towards minyan. Today, as on most Saturdays, the orthodox men graciously dropped by, ready to make 10.
This is a far cry from the Jewish center’s heyday, when it boasted 1,800 members and an impressive facility. Four years ago, the center had to sell its building to pay bills, including the wages of the rabbi, who has since died. The congregation, dwindling ever closer to single digits, now meets in the basement of a two-story row house, located at 40-20 47th Ave., to observe the Sabbath.
But Banberger, 65, is determined to revive it. He jokes in his Bronx brogue that he became the synagogue’s president because he was its youngest member. (He isn’t, but he’s close.) Banberger plans to use the remaining money from the sale of the old building to transform the townhouse into an attractive synagogue, which he thinks will attract new congregants.
Banberger, however, is determined to build in spite of those trends. The synagogue redesign by Silberstang Lasky Architects calls for a 90-seat sanctuary on the first floor of the row house, arranged in a eastward ring for prayers facing Jerusalem. Offices and classrooms will be upstairs. Replacing the garage behind the row house will be an extension that serves as an entrance from the street and bears a brick façade with a large, backlit menorah in relief. Between the two brick buildings, will be a glass-paneled annex. All told, the renovation is estimated to cost $1.2 million, Banberger said.
The synagogue is scheduled to open next September, in time for the high holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Banberger said he believes the synagogue will attract younger Jews who have recently moved to Sunnyside and Long Island City and want to be more observant.
“I pray for the day we can get a younger, more vital congregation,” he said. “People with some energy, people with some vision, people who will be able to go forward.”