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The history of the Hebrew Institute of White Plains stretches back to the early 20th century, when Jewish immigrant families began moving to southern Westchester. As the seat of the county government and positioned on a major railroad line, White Plains was particularly well-situated for traders, merchants and real estate developers to prosper. A young Jewish community began to emerge in the city. With growth came a need for Jewish communal infrastructure, such as synagogue services, kosher food, charitable organizations, and cemeteries. The following timeline traces the history of our shul from that time until the present day.

In White Plains, local merchants establish the first organized Jewish religious services. With no rabbi or synagogue building, services are held in private homes or businesses, such as the back room of Isaac Leven’s furniture store.

Congregation Sons of Israel is incorporated and the synagogue community is formally established.

A physical home for the congregation is built on Fisher Avenue near South Lexington Avenue.

The Hebrew Institute of White Plains is founded by a dissident group seeking a more halachically observant practice, with David Jacobs as president and Rabbi Max Hoffman as spiritual leader.

A new synagogue building for the Hebrew Institute is completed on South Lexington Avenue near Fisher Avenue.

The first dinner honoring a member of the congregation is held, setting a precedent for the annual testimonial dinners which continue to this day. Contributions of dedicated lay volunteers have been the lifeblood of the community since the beginning.

A group called the Mothers Club is formed by women, who have always played an active role in the life of the shul. A Hebrew School is established during the earliest years of HIWP and continues for eight decades.

While at first services were led by part-time rabbinical or lay personnel, the congregation now takes a bold step forward and hires Samuel Feldshon to serve as its permanent rabbi. Rabbi Feldshon, a native of Russia, serves as rabbi, cantor and Hebrew School instructor.

Financial struggles are substantial during the 1920s and 1930s. Despite challenges, by the early 1940s HIWP has grown from about 30 families to approximately 120.

The Mothers Club transforms into the Women’s League in the 1940s and later into the Sisterhood. Over time, the Sisterhood raises thousands of dollars for the shul though an array of fundraising activities including raffles, rummage sales, a thrift shop, plant and flower sales, and sales of grocery coupons. Purely social and cultural events—such as theater parties and dances—are also organized by the Sisterhood.

Rabbi David Roth, a graduate of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, is hired as assistant to Rabbi Feldshon.

Bezalel Newberger joins as the first full-time cantor.

Membership swells in the post-WW II baby boom era, and plans move forward for a new, larger synagogue building. A plot of land is purchased at the corner of Greenridge and Rutherford Avenue and construction begins in late 1949. Sadly, Rabbi Feldshon passes away after 24 years of service in February 1949, prior to the building’s completion. The new synagogue building is officially dedicated on September 10, 1950.

Enrollment in the Hebrew School peaks in the 1950s, with over 200 students participating in weekday and Sunday classes. The original nursery and primary school level classes are later augmented by a Hebrew High School program, operated jointly with Temple Israel Center.

Rabbi Murray Grauer, a New York native, is hired as the shul’s new spiritual leader. He goes on to serve the community for the next 44 years until his retirement in 1995.

A major renovation and expansion of the building is undertaken, which includes a new wing on the north side, an enlarged parking lot, a remodeled kitchen, and an updated sanctuary and social hall.

A large fire causes substantial damage to the building and sanctuary. Thankfully, no congregants are injured, and Rabbi Grauer’s leadership saves the Torah scrolls from destruction. Repairs begin shortly after the fire, and the reconstructed sanctuary remains in use until the 21st Century renovation project.

Cantor Newberger passes away after 36 years of devoted service. Cantor Eli Berlinger joins the community later that year.

Rabbi Chaim Marder, the shul’s current spiritual leader, joins the community following positions in Riverdale, New York and Providence, Rhode Island.

With the move toward full-time day school in Orthodox education, the Hebrew School’s enrollment has dwindled and it now closes its doors. Reflecting shifting needs, an active youth program is developed that meets on Shabbat mornings, Jewish holidays, and for special events.

Women’s Tefillah is launched, as HIWP embraces expanding roles for women in Orthodoxy. Women’s Tefillah Bat Mitzvah celebrations at which girls lein Torah and lead davening become a standard shul practice. Over time, under Rabbi Marder’s mentorship, women are hired to serve as congregational interns, and ritual participation in select roles in the main sanctuary’s services are extended to women.

Cantor Berlinger retires after 26 dedicated years of service and Cantor Yitzy Spinner—“Chazzan Yitzy”—joins the community.

After serving on the clergy team for 11 years, Chazzan Yitzy, a beloved community member, moves on to a role at another synagogue.

After a careful review of the needs of the congregation and its almost 70-year old building, an ambitious plan to renovate and revamp the structure is launched. After moving out of the building for construction, the community begins holding services at Temple Israel Center’s gym.
In March, the COVID-19 pandemic explodes in the headlines and upends the world. HIWP’s indoor services are shut down, and for the next two years the community holds weekly services in backyards, and in parking lot tents on the grounds of local synagogues for the high holidays.
After an extended period out of the building, the community joyfully returns to its beautiful, expanded home in September, just in time for Rosh Hashana.

From here, we look forward to continuing our 100+ year tradition as a shul that is warm, welcoming, and committed to halachic integrity. We honor our past while always looking toward the future and adapting to meet evolving times.

Sat, June 15 2024 9 Sivan 5784