Our History

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Since our founding immediately following the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the values and traditions of the Village Temple, Congregation B’nai Israel, have reflected the creative, cultural and liberal sensibilities of its surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhood.

On June 3, 1948, thirty Jews gathered at the old Brevoort Hotel on Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue to discuss the creation of a liberal Jewish congregation for residents of Greenwich and the lower West Side areas. Stimulated by each other’s enthusiasm and energy, the group moved to incorporate The Village Temple, Congregation B’nai Israel, as of November 5, 1948. Friday evening services were held at the Brevoort Hotel and the congregation’s 150 members covered most of their modest expenses with a contribution of $35. Rabbis from Temple Emanuel continued to lead services until the fledgling community could hire its own rabbi. By January 1949, there were 300 members and the group outgrew the space at the hotel. Leaders of the congregation spoke with elders at the Village Presbyterian Church at 143 West 13th Street (now converted to condominiums) and secured the use of the sanctuary.

The Leadership established a Building Fund in 1954 to raise funds to purchase and renovate an appropriate space for communal worship and other activities. The Congregation launched several fundraising initiatives and soon, generosity prevailed. Members Lena and Samuel Kilberg gave us their deed to a metal shop at 33 East 12th Street for the sum of $1.00. Nine years after its founding, the Village Temple opened its doors, welcoming its congregants and neighbors on Saturday, September 14, 1957. A formal dedication for the Temple was held on Monday, September 16, 1957. We are honored that some of our early, visionary leaders, are still members today.

Rabbi Harvey Tattelbaum was our first full-time rabbi. He was followed by Cantor Elliot Levine (now Cantor Emeritus) who joined us in 1967 and Rabbi Dennis Math, who arrived in 1971. Both remained active in our Congregation for over 25 years. In the mid-1980s, the Congregation purchased space in an adjacent building, and remodeled it to house the Sanctuary you know today. 1987 saw the creation of The Village Temple Soup Kitchen, which continues to feed hot nourishing meals to hundreds of hungry New Yorkers each month. In 1990, we engaged a professional educator to re-envision our Religious School, which had been run by dedicated volunteers. The Religious School has grown and blossomed under the guidance of Alex Tansky, Director of Education, who took charge in 2005. Rabbi Chava E. Koster stepped on the bima in 1999, where she remained as our spiritual leader until 2016. On July 1, 2016, Rabbi Deborah Hirsch entered our community, to help our congregation continue on the path envisioned all those years ago at the old Brevoort Hotel, blending the beauty of our tradition with today’s responsibilities for Jewish learning, social action and justice. In 2020, we are thrilled to welcome Rabbi Diana Fersko as our Senior Rabbi.