Park Avenue Synagogue – Agudat Yesharim, The Association of the Righteous – is one of the leading congregations of the Conservative movement. The synagogue’s “family tree” includes several congregations that merged over multiple decades. The earliest of them, Gates of Hope, was founded in 1882. Some twelve years after its founding, the synagogue joined with Congregation Agudat Yesharim, which became the Hebrew name of the merged congregation.
In 1923, the congregation was known as Eighty-Sixth Street Temple/Agudat Yesharim, after further integrating with the Seventy-Second Street Temple (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). A last merger took place in 1928 with the addition of Atereth Israel, a congregation of Alsatian Jews who worshipped in their building on East 82nd Street before the congregation petitioned the State of New York to change its name to Park Avenue Synagogue. In March of 1927, the renamed congregation dedicated the building on 87th Street, which is our sanctuary today. It is one of the last synagogues built in the Moorish style, which first became popular in Europe in the 1850s.
When Rabbi Milton Steinberg came to the pulpit in 1933, Park Avenue Synagogue joined the Conservative movement. In 1954, the Milton Steinberg House was built adjacent to the sanctuary building and dedicated to the memory of the late rabbi. The building’s façade was a unique stained-glass window wall created by the abstract expressionist artist Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974). The windows include 21 compositions representing traditional Jewish emblems, religious rituals, biblical incidents, and holidays.
During the next quarter-century, with the burgeoning of the Upper East Side into a major Jewish community, the congregation outgrew its building. The dream for more space was coupled with the idea of making a new building a living memorial to the more than one million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust. In 1980, the Steinberg building was incorporated into the Rita and George M. Shapiro House. With two bronze sculptures by Nathan Rapoport on its façade, this building expressed the hope that Park Avenue Synagogue would inspire new generations of educated and proud Jews and ensure the continuity of Jewish tradition, history, faith, and heritage.
In 2014, with more and more of its 1,700 member families actively engaging in synagogue life, Park Avenue Synagogue was once again “bursting at the seams.” The community undertook a once-in-a-generation project to expand by adding the Eli M. Black Lifelong Learning Center at 11 East 89th Street, dedicated in October 2017, and by reimagining the interior of the 87th Street building, rededicated in December 2019. The historic Gottlieb windows have been repurposed in both buildings to link the Lifelong Learning center with the revitalized 87th Street building. With Jewish texts and images integrated into the very walls of both buildings, the new campus serves Park Avenue Synagogue’s mission to create more and better pathways for learning, engagement, and inclusion in order to enhance the Jewish experience for all of members of the community.