|Temple Beth Israel (Conservative)
905 College Avenue
Niagara Falls, NY 14305
Dr. Laurence Boxer, Religious Director
Last updated on: September 1, 2011
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Temple Beth Israel Cemetery
5471 Military Rd
Lewiston, New York 14092
Last updated on: September 1, 2011
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Temple Beth Israel (Niagara Falls, New York)
The congregation moved to its current building in 1967, and soon afterwards membership peaked at over 180 families, but by 2008 had been reduced to 50. From 2005 to 2007 the synagogue was repeatedly targeted by vandals; after some of these incidents a federal investigation was started and two people were arrested, convicted, and sentenced.
Samuel Porrath served as rabbi from 1931 to 1934, and, though employed elsewhere, would subsequently often serve as interim rabbi; he was appointed "rabbi emeritus" in 1968. Melvin Kieffer was the congregation's longest serving rabbi, from 1947 to 1957. Haim Cassorla served from 1988 to 1995; Beth Israel has not had a rabbi since then. As of 2008 its president was Dr. Lawrence Wolfgang.
Founded in Niagara Falls in 1898, Temple Beth Israel formally incorporated in 1905, when it was granted a charter by the State of New York, and purchased land for $1,600 ($39,000 in current dollar terms) on Cedar Avenue. Construction of a building did not start until 1911, when the cornerstone was laid. At the time the congregation had 33 members. The building was completed in 1912 at a cost of approximately $12,000, of which $6,000 was borrowed as a mortgage. Jacob Schiff, the New York City philanthropist, donated $250 towards the costs. Annual dues averaged around $17 ($400 in current dollar terms) per year.
In its early years Beth Israel could not afford a rabbi, Sunday School, or Hebrew school; High Holiday services were run by guest rabbis, and the rabbi of Niagara Falls' Temple Beth El would help out. In 1915 Beth Israel started providing Hebrew school classes, and in 1916 hired its first full-time rabbi, Moses Abramson, who served until 1918. Subsequent rabbis were Abraham Helfman (1919–1922), Israel Holtzman (1923–1924), and Alter Abelson (1925–1926).
During Abelson's final year at Beth Israel the congregation opened a permanently organized Sunday School; prior to that classes had not been "on a steady or permanently organized basis". Abelson was followed by Jacob Landy (1927–1928) and Isser Muskat (1928–1930).
1930s, 40s, and 50s
Though the synagogue had always called itself Orthodox, it also had liberal leanings, and in 1931 it affiliated itself with the United Synagogue of America (now United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism). That year Beth Israel hired Samuel I. Porrath as rabbi, a position he would hold until 1935. Porrath subsequently moved away from Niagara Falls, but would eventually return. Though employed elsewhere (including Temple Beth El in Buffalo, New York, and Niagara University, where he chaired the Institute of Transportation, Travel and Tourism), he would often serve as Beth Israel's interim rabbi when the congregation was between permanent rabbis. A founder of Niagara County Community College, Porrath was appointed Beth Israel's "Rabbi Emeritus" in 1968, and died in 1989.
After Porrath, Beth Israel went through another series of short-tenured rabbis: Jacob Friedman (1936–1937), Herman Glatt (1938–1940), and Mordecai Waxman (1941–1942). Waxman would subsequently serve as an Army chaplain in World War II, go on to become a prominent rabbi in the Conservative movement, and serve as rabbi of Temple Israel of Great Neck, New York from 1947 to his death in 2002. Waxman was followed by Simon Shoop (1942–1943), Philip Miller (1943–1944), and Jay Kaufman (1945–1946).
In 1947 Beth Israel also hired Melvin Kieffer; he served until 1957, the synagogue's longest serving rabbi, and during his tenure, in 1955, Beth Israel's mortgage was finally paid off. Kieffer was followed by Seymour Schorr, who was hired in 1958.
By 1965 the congregation had approximately 175 families, and had outgrown its building on Cedar Avenue, which had inadequate facilities, and too few (and unsafe) classrooms. In 1961 Beth Israel had acquired from the New York Power Authority 2 acres (8,100 m2) of land at College Avenue and Madison Avenue, valued at approximately $100,000, in exchange for 1-acre (4,000 m2) of land the Authority needed in Beth Israel's cemetery. Funds were raised for a new building, and in 1966 construction began on the current facilities on College Avenue. The work was completed in time for High Holiday services to be held there in 1967.
That year Schorr asked to be released from his contract, and was replaced by Morris A. Cohen for 6 months, and then Samuel Porrath, who came out of retirement to assist. In 1968 Yosel I. Dick was hired as rabbi; he would serve until 1971.
Membership peaked at over 180 families soon after the move to the new building, but during the 1970s Niagara Falls had entered a long economic downturn: plants run by major employers closed, and the city's population dropped by over 40 percent. Jewish employees were laid off when the plants closed, and many Jewish businesses moved or went out of business. Jewish families left the area, and synagogue membership declined. During this period Israel Zimmerman was rabbi from 1972–1975, and Lawrence Pinsker, a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, from 1976 to 1980.
Jerome Kestenbaum joined as rabbi in 1981, and, feeling that the mortgage was a drain on the congregation, in 1982 he and synagogue president Samuel Wineburgh asked Jack A. Gellman to head a campaign to retire it. The original mortgage for the new building had been $350,000, and by 1982 the balance remaining was $42,000. The campaign was a success, and a mortgage burning dinner was held in October of that year.
Kestenbaum was replaced by Bruce Adler in 1983, but in 1985 he returned, serving until 1986, when he was replaced by David Harary.
Haim Cassorla replaced Harary in 1988; when he left, in 1995, the congregation could not afford to hire a replacement. Dr. Laurence Boxer acted in place of a rabbi, without remuneration, conducting all services and grave-side rituals. By 1998 Beth Israel's membership had dropped to 65 families, and by 2008 membership was 50 families.
As of 2008 Beth Israel's president was Dr. Lawrence Wolfgang.
Targeted by vandals
In 1992 swastikas and the words "white power" were found on synagogue's door, which was urinated on, and in 1997 vandals started a fire outside the building. However, a more sustained set of attacks started in 2005 and escalated in the summer and fall of 2006. Incidents occurred on a near-daily basis, and included urinating on the synagogue's doors and carving swastikas into them: a "skateboard club" named "DNA" had apparently claimed the Temple's property as its own "turf", and refused to leave. A federal investigation involving a Joint Terrorism Task Force agent and local police was begun when the message "Kill the Jews" was duct-taped to the building's door on January 12, 2007. The investigation was hampered because witnesses were afraid to speak, in fear of retaliation.
In February 2007
two people, one a juvenile, (Jordan
Stenis) were arrested and charged in
connection with the incidents.
The suspects initially
pleaded not guilty, but in early June
were offered a
and later that month
Shawn M. Blount pleaded guilty to the
In August he was
sentenced to one to three years in
prison, and a co-defendant, who also
pleaded guilty, was sentenced as a
youthful offender to one year in Niagara
At the synagogue's
annual "Friends of Temple Beth Israel"
dinner it honored that year the police
officers and attorneys who prosecuted
the perpetrators, and honored the
following year the parish council
president of St. Teresa Catholic Church
and the founders of the Niagara Falls
Human Rights Commission for helping
raise awareness of the crimes.
The City of Niagara Falls was incorporated on March 17, 1892 from the villages of Manchester and Suspension Bridge, which were parts of the Town of Niagara. New York State Governor Roswell P. Flower signed a bill into law forming the city. Thomas Vincent Welch who was a member of the charter committee and then a New York state assemblyman, but more importantly a second-generation Irishman, was there when the bill was signed, and responsible for asking Governor Flower to sign the bill on St. Patrick's Day. George W. Wright was elected the first mayor of Niagara Falls.
Historically, the city was built around factories that utilized the power of the falling water for energy. Now the downtown area borders a park (Niagara Falls State Park) affording a close-up view of the American, Horseshoe and Bridal Veil Falls.
By the end of the 19th century, the city was a heavy industrial area, due in no small part to the huge power potential offered by the swiftly flowing Niagara River. There were many industries in Niagara Falls that used the power of the mighty Niagara River. Tourism was considered a secondary niche, while industry was the main producer of jobs and economic backbone.
Ever since the early 1900s, the center of the tourist district was Falls Street, a vibrant and carnival-like street that ran into the main part of the city. Although Falls Street no longer exists in the capacity that it once did, efforts are currently being made by the government and private companies to revitalize and restore what is left of the historic thoroughfare.
The 1950s and early 1960s witnessed an economic boom, as several industries moved into the city to take advantage of the hydroelectric power offered, due to a higher demand for household and industrial products. Paper, rubber, plastics, petrochemicals and abrasives were among the major industries located in the city. This brief period of prosperity would end by the mid-1960s, as the locally owned Schoellkopf Power Project later collapsed into the Niagara River, ending an industrial era.
To take advantage of the hydroelectric power offered, New York City urban planner Robert Moses built a new power plant in nearby Lewiston, New York. However, Niagara Falls did not get much of the power created; Most of it went downstate to fuel growing demands for New York City.
The neighborhood of Love Canal gained national media attention in 1978 when United States President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency there, and hundreds of residents were relocated. Starting in 1920, the area had been used as a landfill for chemical waste disposal (and later, industrial toxic waste) before its development as a residential area. The Superfund law, which protects people, families, communities and others from heavily contaminated toxic waste sites, was enacted in 1980 in response to the Love Canal situation.
The post-Love Canal Niagara Falls witnessed a reversal of fortunes, as what was once cheap to produce in Niagara Falls was now far cheaper to outsource to other countries. Several factories closed, and the population has since dropped by half, as blue-collar workers fled the city in search of jobs elsewhere. The city's economy plummeted downward when a failed Urban Renewal project took place resulting in the destruction of Falls Street and the tourist district. Another catalyst of the economic decline was the presence of the New York Power Authority, who sent power to Downstate New York with almost none of it going to Niagara Falls, who had to buy expensive power from outside New York State.
Currently, the city's main industry is tourism. In 2004, the Seneca Nation of Indians opened the Seneca Niagara Casino in the former Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center, thereby establishing sovereign Native American territory in the midst of the city. The city, however, continues to struggle economically.
In 2001, the entire corrupt leadership of Laborers Local 91 plead of were found guilty of extortion, racketeering and other crimes following an exposé by Mike Hudson of the Niagara Falls Reporter. However, union boss Michael "Butch" Quarcini died before trial began, although the rest of the union leadership was sentenced.
In early 2010, former Niagara Falls Mayor Vincent Anello was indicted on federal charges of corruption. Although not related to his political career, Anello, a master electrician by trade, was also sentenced to 13 months in jail for pension fraud regarding a pension from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, of which he is a member.
On November 30, 2010, the New York State Attorney General entered into an agreement with the city and its police department to create new policies to govern police practices in response to claims of excessive force and police misconduct. The city will create policies and procedures to prevent and respond to allegations of excessive force, and to ensure that police are properly trained and complaints are properly investigated. Prior claims filed by residents will be evaluated by an independent panel.
The city has a number of properties on the National Register of Historic Places. It also has three national historic districts including: Chilton Avenue-Orchard Parkway Historic District, Deveaux School Historic District, and the Park Place Historic District.
The area is subject to the migration of manufacturing jobs to developing countries common to the rust belt. Another major toll was suburban migration, a national trend. The city, which once boasted well over 100,000 people at its peak, has seen its population decline by some 50%, as industries shut down and people left for the employment opportunities of the South and West. The unemployment rate in the City of Niagara Falls was around 10 percent as of October 2010. Approximately 60 percent of residents in Niagara Falls receive public assistance such as food stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance and Medicaid.
Also blamed for the economic decline is the presence of the New York Power Authority, whom politicians, reporters and residents have blamed for charging the city high electric bills, rendering the draw of cheap power obsolete. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and especially the Niagara Frontier Parks Commission (a division of the department), has also been blamed for placing souvenir stands, parking lots and restaurants within Niagara Falls State Park, which may have resulted in tourists not patronizing businesses in the city. Recently, state officials have been negotiating with state park and NYPA officials, such as Assemblyman John Ceretto of Lewiston asking the NYPA if they would nominate a resident of Niagara County to the Board of Directors, since the Robert Moses Niagara Power Project in Lewiston is the most profitable project undertaken by NYPA and generates the most power.
Because of this economic downturn, the city government has passed several tax hikes, making Niagara Falls among the highest-taxed cities in the United States.
Local and state government officials have vowed to embrace the physical and cultural advantages that the Niagara region naturally possesses — whether speaking of the Niagara Gorge, burgeoning wine trail, historical landmarks, Little Italy Niagara or Niagara Falls itself. This move away from the city's industrial past to embrace a tourism-based economy has led the city to reinvent itself in marketing in recent years. In late 2001, the State of New York established the USA Niagara Development Corporation, a subsidiary to the State's economic development agency, to focus specifically on facilitating development in downtown Niagara Falls, NY. However, the organization has been strongly criticized for doing little to improve Niagara Falls' economy and generating no significant progress since it was founded.
The Falls' current development strategy is focused on a pragmatic approach to revitalizing vacant and underutilized buildings in the downtown area as high profile catalyst projects with real economic impact. But the cost to demolish the city's many abandoned buildings may make it impossible to address all the eyesores, according to officials, but some have criticized the city of wasting funds elsewhere. The opening of the new Conference Center Niagara Falls in 2005; the redevelopment of the historic United Office Building and the Hotel Niagara; the restoration of Old Falls Street, once the primary tourist thoroughfare downtown, which is now a promenade; the redevelopment of the former Holiday Inn Select as a new Crowne Plaza Resort with several restaurants including the city's first Starbucks Coffee; and other attractions such as the planned Niagara Experience Center; and of course, the Seneca Niagara Casino, attempt to reposition Niagara Falls as a premiere destination.
The arrival of the Seneca Niagara Casino was one effort to renew in the city's moribund downtown. However, the anticipated renewal that the casino was supposed to catalyze has not come; Property values in the casino's area have skyrocketed, ultimately not allowing new small businesses to move into the area.
Niagara Falls is currently visited by almost ten million people each year and is considered one of the United States' top ten tourist destinations. The official tourism promotion agency, Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation ( NTCC), was adopted in 2005. "The Mission of the NTCC is quite simple: to enhance the economic prosperity of Niagara County by promoting, selling and marketing the County as a premier destination for meetings, conventions and leisure tourism. While everyone agrees that Niagara Falls is the region’s main attraction, there are a plethora of other attractions that make Niagara USA such a special place to visit." The NTCC has launched several campaigns, domestically and internationally,to promote Niagara Falls Hotels, Niagara Attractions, and various events and festivals in Niagara County. The NTCC's efforts have also been criticized as the city continues to struggle financially and marketing efforts have not generated a significant turnaround. A recent audit also found millions of dollars of tax dollars spent by high-ranking NTCC officials on tuxedo rentals, trips to Europe and Asia, expensive meals and backrubs.
Despite all its efforts, Niagara Falls, NY struggles to keep up with its Canadian neighbor, Niagara Falls, Ontario which has a much more vibrant tourism industry and stronger economy.
There is also an outlet mall called Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, formerly "Prime Outlets Niagara", which is not actually part of the city, but of the town of Niagara, New York, which shares a post office with the city.
The Wintergarden was an all-glass indoor arboretum designed by Cesar Pelli adjacent to the Rainbow Centre. It operated as an arboretum from its 1977 opening until 2003, and as Smokin Joe's Family Fun Center from 2003 to 2005, after the city sold it to local developer Joseph Anderson. It sat adjacent to the derelict Rainbow Centre until its being demolished demolished in 2009 to make way for Old Falls Street, plus the fact that it cost too much to heat during the typically harsh winters in the area.
Although statistically lower in crime than cities in Upstate New York such as Buffalo and Rochester, unfortunately Niagara Falls still suffers from a higher than average crime rate. In wake of recent gun violence, volunteer groups such as the "SNUG" movement have been mobilized to stop violence in Niagara Falls, and promote positive community involvement in Niagara Falls poorest and highest crime areas.
An example of institutional racism in Niagara Falls was a hate crime at the Niagara Falls Department of Public Works, where employee James Curtis placed a sign that read "Whites Only" above a drinking fountain in the City Garage. Curtis' actions were condemned by Mayor Paul Dyster, but was not fired. Curtis later apologized to the city for his actions.
has very few African-American
employees especially Public
Works. These were especially
frequent during the
administrations of Mayors
Vincenzo V. Anello and Irene J.
Elia. The city recently resolved
a lawsuit with six DPW
employees, known as the Niagara
Falls Six, who pressed charges
of racism against the city. The
lawsuit was filed during the
Elia administration and resolved
out of court by the
administration of Mayor Paul
Dyster. The lawsuit resulted in
the termination of Public Works
Director Paul Colangelo in 2008.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 16.8 square miles (44 km2), of that, 14.1 square miles (36.4 km²) of it is land and 2.8 square miles (7.1 km²) of it (16.37%) is water.
Adjacent cities and towns
Places of interest
The city is home to the Niagara Falls State Park. The park has several attractions, including
- Cave of the Winds
- Maid of the Mist
- Prospect Point and its observation tower
- The falls are illuminated each night, and fireworks are fired from the Canadian side each week during the tourist season.
- Niagara Discovery Center (Also known as the Schoellkopf Center)
- Aquarium of Niagara
Several attractions also abut the river, including
- Whirlpool State Park
- De Veaux Woods State Park
- Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park in nearby Lewiston, New York, commonly known as the Artpark
- Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown, New York.
Attractions in the downtown include
- One Niagara Center
- Aquarium of Niagara
- United Office Building
- Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel
- Hard Rock Cafe
- the proposed Niagara Experience Center
- the proposed Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, which will open within the former Rainbow Centre Mall by 2015.
- Daredevil Museum
- Old Falls Street
- Oakwood Cemetery (Niagara Falls, NY)
- Conference Center Niagara Falls
- Third Street Entertainment District
- The Theater in the Mist
- Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours, which take off from the roof of the Howard Johnson Inn on Main Street.
- Rapids Theatre on Main Street
- Haunted House of Wax on First Street
The city is home to several diverse neighborhoods including Little Italy, the North End, Deveaux, La Salle, Downtown, Niagara Street/East Side, Buffalo Avenue and Hyde Park. Niagara Falls has a numbered street system ranging from 1st Street to 102nd Street.
Little Italy is an area full of restaurants, bakeries, and pizzerias extending along Pine Avenue and surrounding areas from Portage Rd. to Hyde Park Boulevard. It historically was the home to a large Italian-American population. It still retains much of that population.Italian Americans built such institutions as St. Joseph's Church, the Cristoforo Colombo Society (1903) and Colombus Square Park. The park serves as the center of Italian culture with its bocce courts, summer concerts and the Italian Festival. Currently Council Chairman Sam Fruscione produces a weekly Public-access television cable TV show promoting Little Italy Niagara. While Pine Avenue continues to thrive, areas around it have gone through an economic decline.
The North End, like Little Italy, has declined significantly over the years. Originally a booming industrial district, especially along Highland and College Avenues, several of the industries have closed and the area has become neglected. It is a dangerous area typefied by poverty, crime and drug dealing. Recently, "green" industry has begun to move into the North End, bringing back some jobs. The relocation of the Niagara Falls Train Station is expected to help the area, as well as new development on nearby Main Street. It is mainly considered to be anything located north of the primary railroad tracks within the city, with the exception of west of Ninth Street. Several housing projects have been built within the area, including Center Court, Harry S. Jordan Gardens, the proposed HOPE VI houses, and the infamous Unity Park projects. Originally an Italian neighborhood, it has become increasingly African-American.
A small, upper-middle class neighborhood located in the northern part of Niagara Falls, Deveaux is centered around Lewiston Road and the campus of the Deveaux School, now Deveaux Woods State Park. It is named for Judge Samuel Deveaux, the main benefactor for the college located on the Deveaux Campus. The former campus was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Deveaux School Historic District in 1974. The area surrounding Lewiston Road has been thwarted in the past few years due to the closure of the road for repairs, which took significantly longer than anticipated due to radioactive slag from uranium production in World War II found beneath the roadbed.
is a large, vaguely defined
middle class neighborhood
considered to be anything east
of 56th Street. It is the site
Love Canal, an infamous
toxic waste landfill that was
sold to the city for purposes of
building a school in the early
1950s. It is named for
Robert de la Salle, a
French explorer who launches
his boat, the
Griffon from the
approximate location of Griffon
Park on Buffalo Avenue. In
recent years, the main retail
area of downtown Niagara Falls
has moved from the South End
near the falls to Military Road
Niagara Falls Boulevard,
giving a significant economic
boost to the area.
Niagara Street/East Side
Niagara Street is the main thoroughfare in the area known as the East Side. It is the historic home to a significant Eastern European population, especially Polish and German immigrants. It has been and continues to be a diverse working-class neighborhood. Students in the area are served by the new Niagara Street School in between Niagara Street and Welch Avenue.
After the decline of several industrial areas in the city, Buffalo Avenue has remained the primary industrial section of the city for a century, although today the heavy manufacturing, mainly of petrochemicals and electrochemicals, occurs at a significantly diminished rate from a half-century ago when the city was at its peak. Several chemical factories are located along Buffalo Avenue between John B. Daly Boulevard and 56th Street.