Weinstein’s work features 613 photos of existing classical to modern sanctuaries, with close-ups of stained glass windows and decorative architectural details.
“I wanted to do a book that would give people a window into Orthodox Judaism,” said Weinstein at a book signing and talk at Rego Park Jewish Center last month. “What does it look like from the balcony? Why is there a separation between men and women?”
The book takes a look at five synagogues in the Bronx, 100 synagogues in Brooklyn, 35 synagogues in Manhattan, 35 synagogues in Queens, and 5 synagogues in Staten Island.
Locally, some featured sites are the Queens Jewish Center, Jewish Community Center of Queens, Havurat Yisrael, Machane Chodosh, Sephardic Jewish Congregation, and the landmarked Congregation Tifereth Israel of Corona.
“One of the oldest synagogues in Queens is in Corona, a community which now has lots of people from Peru, Columbia, Mexico, and Ecuador,” Weinstein explained. “The synagogue is run by a Bukharian rabbi. Estée Lauder and her family were Hungarian, and around the turn of the last century, there were Jewish people from Hungary that lived here. She davened at this synagogue.”
Weinstein’s parents are from Brooklyn, his grandparents lived on the Lower East Side, and his great-grandparents descended from Russia. Years later, his parents relocated to Briarwood, where he was born.
As for his connection to Rego Park, his father worked for The LeFrak Organization for over 25 years. He attended the Jericho Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue, and over time, decided to grow religiously.
“I went to Israel in 2010 for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and then wanted to be kosher, increase my level of understanding, and see where I am from and where my great-grandparents were from,” Weinstein said. “I traced my roots to a town called Pinsk in Russia.
“People left areas like Russia because of religious persecution in the 1880s and 1890s, where people were getting killed, beat up, and were not allowed to practice,” he added. “They immigrated to the Lower East Side, where in the early 1900s, there were hundreds of thousands of Jewish people. Over the years, it also changed, and they began to move to different boroughs.”
Upon learning more about his past, Weinstein’s consulted with what he humorously called “Rabbi Google,” and searched the terms “mitzvah” (good deed) and “Brooklyn” with his lineage in mind, and came across the popular figure “Mitzvah Man.”
“He too knew there’s more to life than just studying and writing checks, and he physically wanted to help people,” said Weinstein.
“Many synagogues in Brooklyn, particularly in the Hassidic areas of Borough Park and Williamsburg, are named after the towns that people came from,” he added. “I went to all of these synagogues and thought, ‘I wonder if anybody ever did a book?’”
He discovered books on synagogues that became churches, as well as synagogues in communities where the Jewish population greatly declined. He also spoke with 24 Holocaust survivors in Brooklyn.
“On my fifth visit with Frances Irwin of Midwood, she told me ‘blueberries saved my life,’” he recalled. “She hid in the forest for over two years and survived on blueberries. She was caught and sent to Auschwitz and ultimately survived. Many synagogues in Rego Park and Forest Hills were founded during or after the Holocaust serving as a beacon of hope and perseverance.
“I am proud to be a New Yorker and proud of these synagogues,” Weinstein continued. “If you look at these photos, you will see that some rival any synagogue in the world and it’s something to be proud of. They are beautiful places.”
Weinstein’s book is available on Amazon with free delivery anywhere in Queens. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.,/i>