Over a Century after Its Founding, New York’s Show-Business Synagogue Remains Open

Located on West 47th Street in Manhattan—not far from Times Square—the Actors’ Temple still holds regular services, having been revived about a decade ago when it came close to shutting its doors. Its primary connection to the theater district today is that it rents its space for off-Broadway performances on weekdays, but it was once a magnet for celebrities, as Josefin Dolsten recounts:

The Three Stooges, the actors Shelley Winters and Aaron Chwatt (better known as Red Buttons), the baseball stars Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, and the television host Ed Sullivan all prayed there. Sullivan, whose wife was Jewish [but he himself was not], also hosted the annual temple benefit at the Majestic Theater. Headshots of stars who frequented the synagogue hang on a wall.

The synagogue was founded in 1917 for a very different crowd: Orthodox shopkeepers who worked in Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood lined today with bars and restaurants catering to the pre-theater crowd but which at the time was rife with gangs.

In the 1920s, the synagogue, formerly known as Congregation Ezrath Israel, hired Bernard Birstein as its first rabbi. Birstein had his eyes on Broadway, which was home to many Jewish actors and actresses but few regular synagogue-goers. . . . One of Birstein’s first recruits was the popular Ukrainian-born entertainer Sophie Tucker, [famous for singing “My Yiddishe Mama”]. After Tucker, other stars started flowing in.

Read more at Jewish Telegraphic Agency

More about: American Jewish History, Baseball, Synagogues, Theater

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship