Brooklyn’s historic community is experiencing a miraculous renaissance

Not so long ago, Boro Park and Williamsburg weren’t the Jerusalem of Brooklyn. Neighborhoods such as East Flatbush, Brownsville and East New York claimed this title.

East Flatbush had tens of thousands of Jews each, with shuls, kosher stores and schools around every corner. As you stroll down streets such as Remsen Ave., Lenox Rd. and Ave. A., you were sure to hear snippets of Yiddish conversation of shopkeepers haggling over their wares, housewives sharing the latest news, and children playing jacks or marbles.

Where would you choose Daven? Perhaps visit Young Israel of Rugby, led by Rabbi Avigdor Miller. Or maybe you prefer Rabbi Simcha Meir Hakohen Shul at 309 E. 53rd St., run by Rabbi JJ Hecht. There you can enjoy the tenor voice of Chazzan Dovid Werdyger, with the young Mordechai at his side.

You could choose Rabbi Cohen’s massive shul at 890 Lenox Rd., where lines would form outside on Yom Kippur before yizkor. Does a Hasidish shtiebel suit your tastes better? You can daven with the Monistricher Rebbe in his shtiebel at 68 E. 94th St, or you can visit the Gerrer shtiebel on Avenue A.

Of course, you can always stop by the Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin at the corner of Winthrop St. and E 52n St. and hear a shiur from Rav Yitzchok Hutner. If it were Sukkos, you could visit Remsen Avenue between Avenue B and Ditmas Avenue, known as the “Sukkah block” due to the large number of sukkos visible from the street.

All of that came to an abrupt end in the 60s and 70s. Almost overnight, demographics changed. Crime became rampant and people felt unsafe even inside. It wasn’t long before the Jewish residents moved to sunnier pastures, leaving these once-thriving strongholds to deteriorate.

For forty years, the neighborhood remained dormant. Shuls were sold to churches and mezuzahs were painted. Graffiti replaced Yiddish and boomboxes replaced tefillos. They weren’t the kind of places you would feel safe venturing out at night or even day, for that matter.

Then, about six years ago, the tables turned again. The Sefarim teach us that the voice of Torah and prayer is absorbed in the streets and buildings where they are spoken. And kedushah lo zazah mimkomah – if these places have absorbed holiness, that holiness is still there. These hidden voices, latent but ever present, exuded a kind of magnetic attraction, drawing Jews to settle there again.

It’s Shabbat afternoon. Let’s visit the eastern segment of East Flatbush known as Remsen Village, just west of Brownsville. Yiddishe kinderlach are called across the street. Families dressed in Shabbat attire walk the sidewalk. Shabbos zemiros can be heard floating from the windows.

East Flatbush is experiencing a miraculous revival. More than a hundred Jewish families now live in this neighborhood, and more and more families are moving there every month. Yiddishkeit thrives here, visible, fresh and vibrant.

The community’s synagogue, now still housed in a basement, has two daily minyanim, a large library, and a constant flow of shiurim. The community is currently under contract to purchase a large building on Remsen Avenue which will house a large shul, separate mikvaos for men and women, and a simchah hall.

Many of our readers grew up in East Flatbush and remember the community that once thrived there. We would love to hear your memories and connect with you about the recent progress of this new-old community. Please contact us [email protected] Phone 718-679-9965
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