Our Mission & History

Our Mission

Park Avenue Synagogue seeks to inspire, educate, and support our membership towards living passion-filled Jewish lives. Through spirited prayer, study, observance and acts of kindness we aspire to foster deep connections with each other, our Torah, our God, the people and State of Israel and our shared humanity. In practicing a Judaism filled with love, literacy, reverence, compassion, and joy, we strive to make our ancient tradition compelling and welcoming to contemporary Jewry and to serve as a light unto our fellow Jews and the nations.

Our Future

Read the Chairman's 5778/2017 Kol Nidrei address highlighting the progress that we have made expanding our campus to meet our needs as well as creating innovative and engaging programming that enriches the lives of our members, thanking the community for its support, and looking forward to what is to come.

Read Rabbi Cosgrove's speech to the 135th Annual Meeting, delivered in May 2017.

Read Chairman Art Penn's speech to the 135th Annual Meeting, delivered in May 2017.  

Our History

The Park Avenue Synagogue – Agudat Yesharim, The Association of the Righteous – is a Conservative congregation founded in 1882. From modest and humble beginnings, it has grown into one of the major congregations in the Conservative movement.

In 1882, a group of German-speaking Jews founded a synagogue they named Temple Gates of Hope. They met in a church building at 115 East 86th Street, which was converted into a synagogue that was soon known as the Eighty-Sixth Street Temple. Some twelve years after its founding, the synagogue joined together with Congregation Agudat Yesharim, which became the Hebrew name of the merged congregation. (The name is engraved in the cornerstone of the PAS building at the corner of Madison Avenue and 87th Street.) The sermons in the congregation were still preached in German.

Later amalgamations were to come. A nearby synagogue, the Seventy-Second Street Temple, was itself a product of the earlier merger of two congregations that had their beginnings on the Lower East Side in the 1840s, Beth Israel and Bikkur Cholim. After they combined, they moved uptown to Lexington Avenue and 72nd Street, and in 1920 this congregation joined with the Eighty-Sixth Street Temple, Agudat Yesharim.

In 1923 the Eighty-Sixth Street Temple petitioned the State of New York to change its name to Park Avenue Synagogue.  In 1928, the last of the mergers took place when Atereth Israel, a congregation of Alsatian Jews who worshipped in their building on East 82nd Street, added their strength to the Park Avenue Synagogue.

In 1926 a new sanctuary was constructed on 87th Street, dedicated in March of 1927. This is our present sanctuary, which provides seating for 1200. The synagogue building, with one of the most beautiful cast stone facades in New York. is one of the last synagogues built in the Moorish style, which had been popular as the style of European synagogues beginning in the 1850s. Designed by architect Walter Schneider, the sanctuary features Moorish decoration throughout, from Arabesque dadoes to a “muqarnas” design for the octagonal domed ceiling. For this and many other facets, the building has definite historical significance.

Park Avenue Synagogue has met the challenges of time with constant change and growth. In 1954, a new building, the Milton Steinberg House, was built to serve the community and religious school and dedicated to the memory of the late distinguished spiritual leader, Rabbi Milton Steinberg.  The facade of the building was a unique stained glass window wall created by the abstract expressionist artist Adolph Gottlieb. The windows include 21 compositions representing traditional Jewish emblems, religious ritual, Biblical incidents, and holidays.

With the passing of time and the burgeoning of the Upper East Side as a major Jewish community, the facilities of the Milton Steinberg House were no longer adequate to meet the demands of the ever-growing religious school. The dream for another new building was coupled with another idea – to make this building a living memorial to the more than one million Jewish children who were slaughtered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Dedicating the new school building to the memory of the murdered children would give them a meaningful immortality. The building would serve to assure the Jewish future by providing a space for new generations of knowledgeable and proud Jews to learn about their heritage. Though they cannot bring back the million Jewish children who perished, these young Jews would still rob the Nazis of their hoped-for victory – the final solution. The traditions, the history, the insights, and the wisdom of our precious heritage will be preserved and raised to new heights by educating generations of Jewish children who will carry their faith with pride.

The dedications of the building and of the sculptures memorializing the martyred children took place on two memorable days – December 1 and December 8, 1980, the week of Hanukkah – a high point in the annals of the Congregation’s history.

During the first fifty years in the history of the present congregation, eight rabbis served as its spiritual leaders. In 1933 Rabbi Milton Steinberg and Cantor David J. Putterman came to Park Avenue Synagogue, which now became a Conservative congregation. Rabbi Steinberg served seventeen years and Cantor Putterman forty-three years. In 1957, Rabbi Judah Nadich became the spiritual leader of the congregation. He was joined by Cantor David Lefkowitz in 1976. Rabbi David H. Lincoln, now Rabbi Emeritus, began his rabbinate in 1987, and retired in the summer of 2008. Rabbi Kenneth A. Stern served our congregation from 1996 through the end of June 2008. In July 2008, Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove began serving our congregation as Senior Rabbi, with Rabbi Steven I. Rein becoming Assistant Rabbi in the summer of 2009. Cantor Nancy Abramson joined our clergy in 1997 and served the congregation until June, 2011, when she became Director of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Cantor Azi Schwartz came to Park Avenue Synagogue in August, 2011, as Cantor and Music Director.

With more and more of its 1,650 member families actively engaging in synagogue life, Park Avenue Synagogue expanded its physical footprint again in 2016, creating a campus by purchasing and renovating  a six-story building on 89th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues. Dedicated in October 2017, The Eli M. Black Lifelong Learning Center is features state-of-the-art classrooms, activity, and worship space.  The building is designed to be inclusive and welcoming throughout, with careful attention to accessibility, acoustics, and ease of access.  it also serves as a learning tool itself with five friezes that include illustrations for every weekly Torah portion as well as the installation of selected Gottlieb windows, linking the new building to the 87th Street building.  All signage is in both Hebrew and English, expressing the importance of the Hebrew language to the community. 

View the tour brochure for the Eli M. Black Lifelong Learning Center

From April 20 through Fall 2019, PAS offices and PASECC will be located at 4 East 90th Street.  During that time, the 87th Street building will be completely renovated  to provide a technologically up-to-date, warm, and welcoming environment for worship, education, and cultural events.  The original Gottlieb windows designed  for the 1954 building will be redistributed throughout 87th Street to visually join the two locations of the campus as well as to link the synagogue's past to the present.