In 1964, in the living room of an apartment in Lincoln Towers, a part-time rabbi from Yeshiva University named Steven Riskin took the budding Lincoln Square Conservative Synagogue by storm. His originality, charm and boundless energy captivated members and moved them to a more traditionally observant Judaism, in turn sparking a growing Jewish renaissance on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Before long, a new synagogue-in-theround made its debut at 200 Amsterdam Avenue, and the excitement at the renamed Lincoln Square Synagogue brought hundreds of young single professionals to the neighborhood, creating a vibrant scene for mixing and matching. Young families were also drawn to LSS, attracted by the dazzling teachings of Rabbi Riskin, assisted by Rabbi Herschel Cohen z”l and Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, and the gorgeous melodies of Cantor Sherwood Goffin. “The New Orthodox” they called it on the cover of New York Magazine. Who knew? But as members struggled to navigate between the laws of Jewish tradition and the secular values of the surrounding society, Lincoln Square Synagogue began to see its destiny.
Just down the street from the temples of high culture at Lincoln Center, Lincoln Square Synagogue quickly established itself as a temple of an innovative kind, showcasing the classical and the contemporary, history and modernity. With joy and pride, the challenges of present-day living were brought into harmony with the ancient traditions passed down through the generations. The sacred liturgical texts of tefillah were infused with a new vitality as haunting, time-honored melodies shared the stage with the music of Shlomo Carlebach and The Rabbi’s Sons. The thirst for wisdom was quenched with the scholarship of Rashi and Rambam blended with the insights of 20th-century thinkers like Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook and Rabbi Joseph Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik. Everything old was new again.
What emerged was a synagogue with its own, unique, invigorating rhythm: home to meaningful and enthusiastic worship, to be sure, but also a place to establish lifelong friendships, build businesses and organizations, find soul mates and nourish the next generation through education and religious instruction. Thousands of Jews of all ages and backgrounds had come together to create a true makom kadosh, providing support for each other in times of sorrow and sharing joy in times of simcha. LSS was now a unified community whose commitment to Judaism and love of humankind extended beyond self and family to the world at large. You could walk in off the street for the first time, as so many did, and feel you’d been here before.
As the years flew by, the stunning success of Lincoln Square Synagogue brought with it newfound responsibility: to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse membership, an ever-expanding neighborhood and a 21st-century world. New solutions for new realities were required that would acknowledge the changing landscape, while staying true to the synagogue’s core principles and personality. Recognizing the difficulties faced by those forced to care for their children and their parents at the same time, and those older members in need of help, LSS became the first local Orthodox synagogue to add a part-time social worker to its core staff, guiding those needing support and companionship through the complicated maze of social service programs.
Identifying a resurgent thirst for Torah study on an individual, one-on-one level, LSS members founded the first full-time Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist Kollel in the New York metropolitan area, offering the learned and the uninitiated new and exciting educational opportunities that reflected a love of Torah as well as eretz yisrael and am yisrael – the land and the nation of Israel.
And always mindful of the needs of the greater Jewish community, LSS members created the Lea Segre Tomchei Shabbos Fund providing free meals to those recovering from illness and childbirth or sitting shiva, as well as the Louis Lazar Benevolent Fund providing free religious articles like siddurim, mezuzot, and tefillin to those in need. All of this and weekly Bikur Cholim visits to Roosevelt Hospital every Shabbat afternoon, annual clothing drives, and a dedicated Chesed Fund that supports a variety of charitable causes in New York and across the country. As our sages teach, “olam chesed yibaneh” – acts of kindness build the world – and Lincoln Square Synagogue always does its part.
In 2013, LSS continued the next phase of its history and moved 100 yards south to 180 Amsterdam Avenue.