“Havurat means friendship, which is the hallmark of our synagogue,” said Rabbi David Algaze, who was among the synagogue’s founding parties in 1981. “I am proud of our friendships, warmth, and joy, and sharing the experience of Jewish life ceremonies and customs.”
“Our synagogue was formed by a group of young people eager to learn about our tradition, and who felt that Orthodox synagogues had closed doors,” he added. “Our mission was to open the doors so every person would feel welcome and able to learn and practice at his or her own pace.”
This vision led to the establishment of one of the earliest outreach programs in Queens. Whether it is a longtime congregant or a newcomer, they will further their Jewish observances and traditions while encountering various languages and cultural backgrounds.
“We are accepting of all people and their differences,” Rabbi Algaze said.
It hasn’t always been an easy road, but the founders were determined to achieve success. In 1998, Havurat Yisrael’s original one-story building was destroyed in a construction accident at a neighboring site. The synagogue was determined to rebuild, and in the interim functioned at a former synagogue, a Cord Meyer house on 70th Road, the Central Queens Y, and in a storefront near the 112th Precinct.
In 2015, Havurat Yisrael reopened in a condo with an exclusively designed space for a sanctuary, classrooms, offices, a Kiddush hall, and a patio. The sanctuary features woodwork and stained glass around the Ark, a skylight and a Modernist chandelier.
The festive nature of the diverse programs and events is essential to the mission. They include Hebrew reading classes, singles events, theatre, and opera, Vermont ski trips, a summer retreat, lectures with prominent speakers, and dinners and parties celebrating Jewish holidays.
Rabbi Algaze is a native of Argentina and a graduate of the University of Buenos Aires. He holds Master’s in Philosophy from Columbia University, where he is also a doctoral candidate in ancient history. He also earned a Master’s in Hebrew Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Prior to founding Havurat Yisrael, Rabbi Algaze was an assistant rabbi at Forest Hills Jewish Center. In 1984, he founded a city in Samaria named Eli, and in 1989 he launched The Coalition for Israel. He is a sought-after speaker and a scholar-in-residence in congregations across America.
On March 1 at 6:30 p.m., Havurat Yisrael will be one of numerous synagogues participating in the annual Shabbat Across America event. Guests will enjoy food and drinks, dance, and spiritual dialogue.
“It is an opportunity to feel the serenity and joy of Shabbat in a warm and welcoming congregation,” said Rabbi Algaze.