From Bukhara to Corona: Congregation Tifereth Israel

By Julie Hartman

Our neighborhood synagogue profile series continues with Congregation Tifereth Israel, located across the East River from Eldridge Street in Corona, Queens.

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Built in 1911, Tifereth Israel was Queens County’s first synagogue, and the site of Long Island’s first mikvah. In the first half of the 20th century, Corona was home to two Ashkenazi Jewish neighborhoods, two synagogues, and a yeshiva. Corona’s Jews began to move away in the 1950’s, spurning an influx of Ecuadorian, Mexican, Filipino, and Chinese immigrants to the area. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Tifereth Israel began to suffer the consequences of structural neglect.

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Rabbi Amnon Khaimov and his wife Esther moved to Corona, Queens, in the late 1990’s. The couple proceeded to infuse new spiritual life into the hundred-year-old building—that of their Bukharian Jewish roots. From 1785 to 1920, the countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan were known as the Central Asian Emirate of Bukhara. For over two thousand years, this region was home to hundreds of thousands of Jews. After the fall of the Soviet Union, most of these Bukharian Jews emigrated to Israel and the United States. The largest Bukharian community in America—numbered at around 50,000 people—is located in Rego Park, Queens.  This is how the Khaimovs heard about Tifereth Israel—the synagogue is located relatively close to Queens’ larger Bukharian community.

 

The Khaimovs immediately recognized Tifereth Israel’s religious and architectural value as a historic New York site. Though they faced strong opposition from landlords and a handful of remaining shul members, the Khaimovs succeeded in stabilizing the building—a beautiful Moorish-revival style construction modeled off of earlier Lower East Side synagogues (it is quite likely that Eldridge Street was among them!).

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In 1997, the Khaimovs contacted the New York Landmarks Conservancy for building stabilization help. In 2008, Congregation Tifereth Israel became a designated New York City Landmark. By this time, the Congregation had saved enough grant money to fund the restoration of the exterior of the building; rotting coats of stucco were replaced by a new ornate facade. Esther went about researching design plans for the exterior renovation by searching for the synagogue’s original 1907 blueprints at the Queens County building office. Without her artistic vision, imagination, and determination, restoration simply could not have been achieved.

 

I spent a wonderful day with Esther learning about Congregation Tifereth Israel’s history, its present-day community, restoration processes, and New York’s Bukharian community.

The congregation welcomes questions about services and donations at ansheicoronati@yahoo.com.

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