New home for ‘gay synagogue’ comes with Assyrian detail

August 08, 2011 01:58PM

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Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and 130 West 30th Street

Known as the “gay synagogue,” Congregation Beit Simchat Torah found some unusual detailing on the adjacent storefront condominium units it recently purchased near Penn Station for $7 million.

The New York Times reported that the building, designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1929 at 130 West 30th Street, has Assyrian-style reliefs of lions and hunters on horse-driven chariots over the lobby and service entrances. As any student of the bible can tell you, Assyrian’s weren’t great friends of the ancient Israelites: they occupied its cities and held Jews captive more than 2,800 years go, causing them to scatter throughout what’s known today as the Middle East.

But for Beit Simchat Torah, which had wandered from one temporary home to the next during its 38 years of existence prior to settling on its first permenant space, the Assyrian detailing is part of the charm of the new home. It’s currently housed in the Westbeth complex at 55 Bethune Street in the West Village, which doesn’t offer enough room for all the attendees of a typical Friday night service.

“I like to think that maybe gay Jews were one of the 10 lost tribes and that maybe we’re coming home,” said the synagogue’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. The synagogue got its ‘gay synagogue’ moniker for ministering to the gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender communities, despite traditional Judaism mostly rejecting those lifestyles.

Kleinbaum told the Times that the congregation hopes to occupy the building by 2013. In the meantime it is hoping to raise $7 million to finance an interior reconstruction complete with 19-foot ceilings and a space that could accommodate current attendance, future growth, and classrooms, conference room and office space. The space is 15,000 square feet, according to an earlier story by the Observer. [NYT]