Havurat Yisrael has a new home

For one Jewish congregation, the new mixed-use building at 106-20 70 Road in Forest Hills marks a long return home.

Residents are moving into the 24 condos, all with balconies. There are studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and retail space for rent on the first floor, said Benjamin Koptiev, of Platinum Realty Associates, which is responsible for sales and rentals.

And a nearly 200-seat synagogue has been built with an outdoor patio, sky roof and plans for stained-glass windows.

It’s the new home for Havurat Yisrael, whose synagogue was irrevocably damaged by a construction accident in August 1998 involving a neighboring building. None of today’s adjacent structures were responsible.

It took 17 years to build the congregation’s new home due to “the lawsuit that was indeterminably long, the insurance that was insufficient, plans for construction and a succession of disappointments with developers and purchasers,” said Rabbi David Algaze.

The congregation decided to sell the site to a developer that then erected the new building with the synagogue inside.

Havurat Yisrael, an Orthodox congregation, was started by Algaze, a former assistant rabbi at the Forest Hills Jewish Center, and about 60 families in 1981. It had about 300 families at the time of the construction accident.

During the 17 years without its own building, the congregation held services throughout Forest Hills: at the former Dov Revel High School Yeshiva on 113th Street; at the Agudas Achim synagogue on 69th Road; at a house on 70th Road; at the Central Queens Y on 108th Street; and finally in a storefront on Austin Street near the 112th Precinct.

The rabbi was offered other positions, some very prominent that paid more, and some in the New York area, but he did not want to abandon his congregation.

The rabbi credits the congregation’s survival to its diversity, adaptability and support for new people coming into the synagogue.

He noted how the class in Spanish grew from four to 30 people this past Sunday. “There is a lot of interest by people who are from Spanish-speaking countries,” said the rabbi, who himself is from Argentina.

Down the road, Algaze would like the new site to house not just a synagogue but a “center for Jewish life” with cafÈ mornings outside on the patio’s informal setting.

People could browse Jewish books, ask questions, have speakers and use computers available for Judaic research, with volunteers from Jewish schools guiding people obtaining information. Hebrew and adult education classes are planned for weekdays.

The congregants will walk their Torah scrolls, containing the Old Testament, down Austin Street with police escort, into their new home this Sunday, starting at 10 a.m.

Festive Sabbath services and a catered meal are planned for Saturday.

The synagogue’s policy is to not turn away people without tickets for the High Holidays but reservations are suggested to ensure a seat.

“This is not only a celebration for Havurat Yisrael but for Forest Hills. We’re not going down, we’re going up,” Algaze said. “It should give all of us encouragement and hope.”

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