By Marvin Greisman
The early 1960s was a time when the Wall Street Synagogue was lacking a minyan or quorum of Jewish men needed for a religious service to commence. To fulfill that solemn religious obligation I was one of a contingent of a few nice Jewish boys of bar mitzvah age to make up the minyan at the shul. On sabbath and on Jewish holidays we all walked from such streets as Grand and Clinton to make the Wall Street Synagogue a functional synagogue and to top it all off, we were paid $3 for our services. Among this group was Sheldon Silver, now the state Assembly speaker from Lower Manhattan, who tagged along with one of his friends, just to keep him company.
Rabbi Meyer Hagger, leader of the Wall Street Synagogue, located five blocks from the World Trade Center, continues to serve the Lower Manhattan area, a community in transition. Hager, the mild-mannered Orthodox leader of the synagogue since 1960, insists that his historic congregation that has continually served the Jewish community when it opened its doors in 1929 is planning programs geared to the newer residents of the community, while at the same time continuing to serve the older residents of the community such as the ones at Southbridge Towers.
Our mandate is to serve them and make them feel like home, the rabbi said of the newer residents.
The synagogue is now at 47 Beekman St., but it used to be closer to Wall St., the heart of the financial community. Before 1958, when the synagogue moved to Beekman, the congregation rented space on Maiden Lane and Dutch St.
Hager said two important Wall Street titans namely Gustav Levy, the head of Goldman Sachs, and David J. Greene, who led the synagogues board, were heavily involved in the synagogues early development.
Benjamin Greenspan, an attorney, was the driving force in starting the congregation, which first prayed on the 2nd floor on 305 Broadway in 1929. A family crisis in the Greenspan household led to the new synagogue, Hager said.
The precious life of Greenspans daughter was at stake. In 1928, Greenspans daughter, Judith, then 7 years old became ill of disease, which a number of physicians were unable to diagnose. Her condition grew worse, and death was expected hourly, Hager said. Greenspan, a non-observant Jew at the time, turned to his own father asking him what should he do about his critically ill daughter.
Greenspans father told him to turn to pray. After Greenspan went to synagogue, physicians told him that Judiths illness was caused by a new germ in the jugular vein and an emergency operation saved her life, Hager said.
That made Greenspan, a zealous devotee to Judaism, and his interest in the cause grew, as time passed, said Hager. Greenspan called a number of friends, and told them that the Jew employed in the busy Downtown area, had no place for prayer and suggested they fill the dire need. Soon after the meeting, Greenspan became the first president of the congregation and Rabbi Hagers late father became its first rabbi.
Hager is now trying to reach out to newer residents with several programs including a crash course in reading Hebrew, bar and bat mitzvah training, programs for young and middle-aged professionals and a pre-school.
Hager is also a member of the Lower Manhattan Clergy Council and has met with officials from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, presenting his views on rebuilding and the World Trade Center memorial for the victims, to remember and honor them and their families.