Synagogue gains historical recognition

·3 min read

Jun. 15—More than 70 congregants, neighbors and friends assembled on the lawn of the historic Congregation B'Nai Israel in Fleischmanns on Sunday, June 13, for the dedication of a historic marker from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation.

"Today we gather to enshrine the legacy of a truly American tale: Congregation B'Nai Israel of Fleischmanns," said Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, who presented the congregation with a proclamation in recognition of the historic marker's dedication.

The synagogue was founded in "classic American fashion," Tague said, by a small group of farmers and businessmen "coming together to build a place where they could gather and worship."

"Ever since, 100 years after ground was broken to build the synagogue, the congregation has been as active as ever," he continued. "After the COVID-19 pandemic, the story of the Congregation B'Nai Israel of Fleischmanns is a critical chapter in the establishment of the Jewish community of upstate New York."

Noting that the synagogue is already listed on the state and national historic registers of historic places, Gil Rubin, president of Congregation B'Nai Israel, said, "I think you can say, either in baseball terms or in horseracing terms, that we have the Triple Crown. Not bad for a small synagogue in upstate New York."

The synagogue will resume in-person worship next week for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

Adam Ippolito and Daisy Alter opened the ceremony by leading the audience in singing the Shehecheyanu, a Hebrew celebratory prayer.

Marsha Biederman read a letter from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, of which Congregation B'Nai Israel is a member, which sent its "warm wishes and mazel tov" on the dedication of the historic marker.

"Your congregation has a rich history, starting with a small group of farmers who gathered together to study torah and to purchase land for a dollar, upon which a beautiful and unique structure was built," Biederman read. "Your warmth, kindness and generosity of spirit all contributed to making Congregation B'Nai Israel a truly special place."

Linda Weinberg read a letter from the congregation's cantor, Shai Simonson, in his absence.

"Our founders, businessmen and farmers, built B'Nai Israel over 100 years ago and God made his summer home in the Catskills ever since," Simonson wrote.

Describing the one-and-a-half story wood-frame building with clapboard siding under a broad gable roof — a design more typical of Episcopal churches than a synagogue — as "one of the most striking and beautiful buildings in Fleischmanns," Simonson said he enjoys watching the reactions of passersby as they take note of the synagogue, built in 1920.

"They ask me questions about the building and its history as though they found a pearl in the woods and want to know how it got there," he wrote.

Of the 2,891 historical state markers in New York, marking battlefields, schools, churches, canals and covered bridges, fewer than a dozen are in Delaware County, according to Simonson.

"I wanted to thank Congregation B'Nai Israel for being a very important part — a very visible and strong part — of the cultural and religious life here in Fleischmanns and in the region of the Catskills and beyond," said village Mayor Winifred Zubin.

Congregation trustee Bill Burnhart, who drafted the rant proposal to the foundation, said the application required him to produce documentary evidence from the 1915 state and federal census and contemporary articles from the Catskill Mountain News "to actually prove that it had the history we alleged."

"I wish you all another 100 years of sharing faith and love within your congregation," Tague said in closing.

"May Congregation B'Nai Israel continue to go from strength to strength," Biederman read.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213.