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$50 Million Synagogue Opens Its Doors in Lincoln Square

By Emily Frost | January 17, 2013 9:20am

UPPER WEST SIDE — After nearly six years of construction, the $50 million Lincoln Square Synagogue is finally ready to open its doors this weekend, making it the first new synagogue built in Manhattan in five decades.

The new building, at 180 Amsterdam Ave. and West 68th Street, is just two doors away from Lincoln Square Synagogue's old facility, which served several hundred families.

But the old synagogue, built in 1971 at 200 Amsterdam Ave., "didn't age well" and "was cramped and constrained," said Senior Rabbi Shaul Robinson, who has been with the modern Orthodox congregation for seven years.

The congregation is made up of locals who walk to synagogue on Saturdays, so leaders needed to find a replacement that was still close to congregation members' homes, Robinson said.

"An ideal opportunity" to build a new synagogue nearby landed in temple leaders' laps when real estate developer American Continental Property approached them about doing a land swap, Robinson said.

A deal gave them $20 million to put toward constructing the new synagogue at 180 Amsterdam Ave. and left the land at 200 Amsterdam Ave. for ACP. A 50- or 60-story building is planned at the synagogue's former location, Robinson said. 

The remaining $30 million in building and construction costs came from the congregation, including a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor. "Hundreds of of people contributed in getting the building built," Robinson said.

The new four-story synagogue, which features a 5,000-square-foot glass facade, will host services, classes and parties for the "very involved community," Robinson said.

And rather than having to constantly raise funds to support these activities, the Lincoln Square congregation has several plans for creating a steady source of income, Robinson said.

The synagogue will lease its new third floor to a nonprofit, and a 5,000-square-foot ballroom will host weddings in the basement.

An in-house kosher catering company led by high-end kosher chef Joey Allaham, founder of The Prime Grill, should make the space an attractive option for Jews who want to serve kosher food at their celebrations, Robinson said.

Robinson said he believes the congregation will grow in coming years, especially with all the new development on the West Side. 

"This is a place where new people are moving and we want to attract Jewish families," he said, adding that ceremonies like group Friday night dinner will help newcomers find a sense of belonging right away.

"Young professionals are on the rise. We want them to come here, to meet each other," Robinson said.

Robinson said the congregation has always attracted a diverse array of members and designed the new building with that spirit in mind. The new synagogue is handicap accessible throughout — even the reader's desk in the sanctuary, which is traditionally raised, can be reached by wheelchair.

"Judaism is about more than buildings, but if you give them a really beautiful building and space, people will really come and embrace it," Robinson said.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who grew up on the Upper West Side, attended the original Lincoln Square Synagogue and was the first girl to celebrate a bat mitzvah there.