A commemorative dinner at Hollis Hills Jewish Center, which featured oral recollections by congregants and a photo slideshow, was held on June 29.
“We are very proud and gratified to be able to reach this milestone,” said RPJC board chairman Ruth Loewenstein. “Our religious services are traditionally conservative and spiritually very uplifting. Our activities and programs are open to the community and enrich its cultural life.”
Rego Park Jewish Center, once housed in a humble property at 63-51 Wetherole Street, was founded at a time when the 1939 World’s Fair contributed to a population boom.
In 1946, Mayor William O’Dwyer spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony for the current location, and emphasized the need to find a second home for Jewish people who were displaced by World War II.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, RPJC is a showcase of Judaic art and Art Deco and Bauhaus-inspired architecture. Loewenstein hopes to apply for funding through the New York Landmarks Conservancy for repairs.
“RPJC is a first in the neighborhood and a real beacon,” she said.
For 43 years, Rabbi Josiah Derby was RPJC’s first spiritual leader.
“He was a rabbi, teacher, and a wonderful human being,” said Loewnstein. “Rebbetzin Bertha Derby led our Sisterhood and put us on the map.”
The Sisterhood was most active in the North Shore Branch of the Women's League for Conservative Judaism. After Rabbi Derby’s retirement, Rabbi Shlomo Blickstein, who Loewenstein called “a real scholar,” led RPJC for 18 years.
“He instructed about 15 ladies who became Bat Mitzvot,” she said. “Sometimes there were three Bar Mitzvot on a Shabbat.”
“I was a junior cantor of sorts,” recalled congregant Jim Orens. “Jack Feldman taught me how to chant Torah, and I still do well as a soloist out here in California.”
Orens’ father was a doctor who was determined to save a very sick child.
“He went with the child’s parent to Rabbi Derby to pray, and the child did recover,” he said. “When the rabbi related this story at my father's funeral, there was not a dry eye in the room.”
Leslie Hochman recalled being a part of the United Synagogue Youth.
“We discussed how we practiced Judaism, supported different beliefs, and helped each other understand and respect those differences,” she said.