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Ansche Chesed History
Ansche Chesed was founded in 1829 when a group of German, Dutch and Polish Jews seceded from Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, which itself had splintered off from another New York synagogue, Shearith Israel. Such secessions were not uncommon in pre-Civil War Manhattan, and the precise reasons for the break are no longer known. By the mid-19th century, Ansche Chesed’s membership was dominated by Jews of German origin.
The congregation has occupied at least five buildings at various sites around Manhattan, initially in rented quarters on Grand Street. Its first purpose-built home, on Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side, now houses the Angel Orensanz Foundation. Ansche Chesed later decamped to East 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue, and in 1908 headed further north to then fashionable Harlem where it built a pillared, neo-classical temple at 114th Street and Seventh Avenue (now Adam Clayton Boulevard).
In 1927, Ansche Chesed laid the cornerstone for a new building on West End Avenue and 100th Street. The majestic, buff brick synagogue was dedicated in 1928 and the congregation has remained there since. Designed by architect Edward I. Shire in a synthesis of Romanesque and Byzantine styles, the barrel-vaulted sanctuary seats 1,600 people, with a subterranean social hall and gymnasium and an adjacent five-story community house with a chapel seating 110.
The stock market crash just one year after the completion of the West End Avenue premises hit Ansche Chesed hard. Nonetheless, it managed to revive after the Depression. By the 1960s and 70s, large numbers of middle and upper class Jews had left the Upper West Side, and Ansche Chesed’s membership dwindled. Ensuing financial distress became so dire that the United Synagogue of America assumed control over the building in 1975.
But by the late 1970s, younger members of small minyans, including the West Side Minyan, an offshoot of the chavurah movement, brought new life and vigor to the congregation. Another davening community, Minyan Ma’at, was established in the early 1980s and became an integral part of Ansche Chesed. In 1997, Minyan Rimonim began holding bimonthly Shabbat services at the synagogue.
Under Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, Ansche Chesed’s minyanim have continued holding separate services on most Shabbats, but congregational unity has grown significantly along with increasing interaction and synergy among the prayer groups. The congregation is governed by a board of trustees representing all the minyanim, and operates joint social action initiatives, family and adult education programs, and a Hebrew School.