From its inception, West End Synagogue has been a celebration of diversity. Initially, its constituent parts were the Manhattan Reconstructionist Havurah, the Havurah Hadashah and a group who broke away en masse from a similar, but very different congregation. Seekers all, the MRH was composed of extremely knowledgeable old-time Reconstructionists, including two of the four daughters of Mordecai Kaplan, Reconstructionism’s founder. MRH, as a group accomplished Jewishly and otherwise, was delighted to be joined by the younger group of Reconstructionists, drawn to their youth just as the Hadashah was attracted to the MRH’s more mature scholarship and exceptional liturgical competence. The breakaways brought energy and know-how to the process of establishing a brand new congregation. Beginning 30 years ago in 1985, a little chapel in the back of what was then the Lindenbaum Center on West 89th Street saw the early days, and the first decade, of this fledgling congregation.
As the congregation grew, and consequently searched for space and light, it pursued possible mergers with other congregations, but several times came away not with more square footage, but with a renewed and reinvigorated sense of our own Reconstructionist identity. WES had reached adolescence; we really knew who we wanted to be. And, like adolescents, still fearful - but daring - we struck out on our own. At a thrilling New York City auction, we succeeded in purchasing our very own home, most appropriate for this little cerebral group of “people of the book,” a building formerly housing a New York City Public Library.
This year we celebrate our 30th anniversary. While still seekers, we are firmly established as what we had originally espoused as an ideal. We have made real the word “synagogue,” derived from the Greek word for coming together, assembling, congregating. And we have enriched the original notion. We are still determinedly diverse, a group composed of those from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform backgrounds, those from the left and also the right, and those from other faiths, or from none at all. We are straight and we are gay and we are black and we are white. We are bound by shared joys and, of course, sorrows. We are bound by our yearnings to live a shared enhanced Jewish life, with a vibrancy that will bring blessings for us and all those who follow.