I first entered the Greenpoint Shul of Congregation Ahavas Israel last year, when the shul’s president plucked me off of Franklin Street on my way to buy coffee. The congregation was struggling to make a minyan — the ten-man quorum needed to hold a service, and I was enlisted as Congregant #10.
On Thursday, I went back to the shul to celebrate the last day of Passover.
Inside a 106-year old landmarked building at 108 Noble Street, up a slightly cramped stairway and through a modest antechamber, the sanctuary of the Greenpoint Shul of Congregation Ahavas Israel stuns with an antique resplendence. Above a gold-curtained ark containing two Torah scrolls, a circular stained-glass window features a Star of David composed of cerulean, dull maroon, pale yellow, and pink panes. Over the center of the hall, an ornate chandelier hangs like a giant, frozen flower, with frosted glass petals of pink and baby blue encasing the bulbs.
Underneath such decorative splendor, a group of fourteen congregants observed the final day of Passover last Thursday morning. Like members of a local, longtime running club passing a spiritual baton around the track, male congregants approached and exited the bimah, the platform for reading the Torah, during the lay-led service, performing various parts of the ceremony and often consulting about the particulars. On the right side of the hall, female congregants sat in pews separated from male seating by sheer gold and sea green curtains made by Greenpoint artist and shul member Sharon Ascher.
Being barely literate in my religious heritage, the worshippers welcomed me into the ceremony and were quick to provide instruction. Harold Kraushar, who serves as a kind of facilitator during services, gave me an aliyah, which is an opportunity to read from the Torah (or a facsimile with transliterated Hebrew), and another congregant kindly showed me the proper way to drape a tallis, a white and blue fringed prayer shawl, over my shoulders. Although one must be Jewish to participate, weekly Sabbath services are open to all.