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Recollections of LSS' early days by Stanley Getzler, LSS president 1978 - 1981

On Friday night, January 27,1965, I attended my first service at Lincoln Square Synagogue. Fifteen or so of us gathered in a small room at 150 West End Avenue and listened as a young Rabbi Riskin spoke of the birth that morning of his first child, Batya. I noticed that there were two people who were so affected by the Rabbi's words that tears streamed down their cheeks. One was my wife, Phyllis, and after services I learned that the second was Rabbi Riskin's mother-in-law. That was my introduction to Lincoln Square Synagogue. I didn't know at the time that LSS would shape my life and the life of my family to the degree it has.

I would like to share with you some of the high points and one memorable disappointment of my 48-year association with LSS as member, officer, and president.

Being intimately involved with the early growth of the congregation was enormously satisfying then and memories of it give me great pleasure even now. My business then was located on 65th Street and West End Avenue, and because I had an addressograph mailing machine in my office, I was the perfect candidate for Corresponding Secretary. I took this job very seriously (my father, the boss, thought too seriously) and as a result I became the mail, voice, and membership committee to the fledgling LSS community.

Starting with a base of 60 members, I set our goal at 10 new membership units per month. We targeted one building at a time and arranged parlor meetings in the home of a member who lived in that building. Rabbi Riskin was extremely effective when he spoke at these meetings. New faces began to appear at services. The goal of 10 new members a month was attained easily.

In retrospect, our early board meetings, in all their seriousness, were humorous. Detailed discussions on how many folding chairs to buy and how much to spend on them could go on for weeks. Discussion and then a vote on whether to serve tsimmes or kishka at our first dinner took an entire evening.
Certainly a high point was a call from Rabbi Riskin asking me to interview a candidate who would serve as our first full-time secretary.

And thus Martha Cohn, 65 and recently retired from Chase Bank, came into my office and my life. No matter what question I asked, her answer was almost always the same - "I can do it", she said. And I absolutely believed her. I conveyed my approval to the Rabbi who informed me that Vicky had some reservations. She was concerned that Mrs. Cohn might not represent the youth and vitality of the new congregation. We won her over, Martha Cohn was hired, and her "Shalom, Lincoln Square Synagogue" became part of our history. Within a short period of time, I was calling her "Martha" and she was calling me "Mr. Getzler and, despite my protestations, I was "Mr. Getzler" to the day Martha died.

It was during the effort to relocate LSS to 200 Amsterdam Avenue that I ran into my singular disappointment. The fundraising campaign was exhilarating because my partner in soliciting was Rabbi Herschel Cohen. We spent many evenings and many Sundays calling on prospective donors and forged a lifelong friendship as a result. But it was in the design of the building that I ran into a brick wall. I felt it was important to be thorough in evaluating and choosing an architect and thus I gave myself a crash course on synagogue architecture.

Coincidentally, there was an exhibit at the Jewish Museum at the time devoted to synagogue architecture and curated by one Richard Meier. Thinking that he would be a good person to consult, I called him. I met Richard in his one-man walk-up office. His only commission at the time was his parents' home. He impressed me greatly and we made a date for him to come to services with me at 150 West End Avenue. In fact, he returned several times and visited the site as well. He was so anxious for the commission to design the new shut and I was anxious for him to get it. Rabbi Riskin, however, felt we should adhere to the recommendation of Yeshiva University in choosing an architect. In an emotional debate with the Rabbi before the entire board, my proposal to use Richard Meier was soundly defeated.

The Chaz. When he first came to audition, a young man carrying a battered guitar case, I knew he was for us. Now I cannot possibly imagine LSS without him and without Batya. Certainly a highlight was "Sherwood Goffin at Alice Tully Hall" -- the black tie concert which Phyllis and I chaired. The Chaz performed to a sold-out house and the auditorium rocked.

The Buy the Bank campaign was definitely a challenge. In three months our congregation had to raise $1,200,000 in cash -- pledges didn't count. If we raised it, we could buy the adjacent bank building; if we didn't raise it, the opportunity would be lost. Rabbi Berman and President Richard Joselit named Phyllis, Morton Landowne, and me chairs of the campaign. The congregation rose to the occasion magnificently. There was close to 100% membership participation and the bank building was bought.

Lincoln Square Synagogue has played a continuing role in the life of my family. The first brit milah ever held in our shut was that of our son, Joshua. Josh's bar mitzvah and aufruf were also in LSS and then, at LSS, we celebrated the brit milah of Josh and Amanda's son, our first grandchild, Joseph Newman-Getzler.

I am grateful.

Wed, November 30 2022 6 Kislev 5783