The Kehilla – A Brief Historical Review
K'hal Adath Jeshurun ("KAJ") was the name of the famed Kehilla in Frankfurt-am-Main, in pre-war Germany. It was established by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch who was brought to Frankfurt in 1851 to lead the small remnant of the Orthodox community which had been decimated by the Reform. Disassociating ("Austritt" – Independent Orthodoxy) from the Reform and under the banner of his "Torah im Derech Eretz" approach, Rav Hirsch founded a school (the "Realschule") and rebuilt the Orthodox Frankfurt Kehilla to great success.
In the late 1930's, driven out of Europe by Hitler and his followers, a small number of German refugees who had settled in the Washington Heights section of New York joined together to establish a Minyan of their own where they could maintain their accustomed Minhagim and cherished tradition.
When Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer arrived in New York in February 1939, he was asked to become Rav of this Minyan which, at the time, was held only on Shabbos. Upon accepting this position, Rav Breuer immediately offered his home so that there could be regular weekday services. At the suggestion of the Rav, the minyan assumed the name of the famous Frankfurt Kehilla “K'hal Adath Jeshurun”. Like the Frankfurt Kehilla, this congregation was to become a full-fledged Kehilla to serve as a bastion of Independent Orthodoxy and a bearer of the "Torah im Derech Eretz" banner.
Rav Breuer was the grandson of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and the son of Rav Dr. Salomon Breuer, who had succeeded Rav Hirsch in his position as Rav of the Frankfurt Kehilla. Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer had served as the Rav of the "Klaus" synagogue in Frankfurt and as the Rosh HaYeshiva of the Frankfurt Yeshiva.
Rav Breuer saw the opportunity to rebuild the Frankfurt Kehilla of old, but at the same time making it a center that attracted not only people from Frankfurt and Germany at large but from many neighboring Kehillos of Europe. While in general the Kehilla continued the Minhagim of Frankfurt, some changes were introduced by Rav Breuer to accommodate members who came from other communities.
After the modest beginning, the Kehilla rented space in the Republican Club of Washington Heights. Soon the space proved too small and, in time for Pesach 1939, the hall of 90 Bennett Avenue was rented. During that year, a fire destroyed a large part of the hall and it became necessary once again to move to other quarters. The premises at 187th Street and Fort Washington Avenue were then rented until 1941, when the Kehilla purchased the building at 90 Bennett to serve as the Shul and, later, as the Yeshiva. The current Shul building at 85-93 Bennett Avenue was built in 1952 (and extensively renovated in 2001); the facility at 90 Bennett Avenue then began serving as a social hall. Originally called the Schuster Hall, it is now known at the Dr. Raphael Moller Auditorium.
In spite of great difficulties and enormous obstacles, Rav Breuer set out to establish the institutions required for an all-encompassing Kehilla. His initial effort called for the establishment and building of a Mikveh. Although he was advised by many that it was unrealistic to try to build a Mikveh at that time of war and economic uncertainty, Rav Breuer characteristically persevered and a building on 187th Street and Audubon Avenue was purchased and the Mikveh opened in 1943. The Mikveh was moved to its current location at 186 Street and Broadway in 1982 and extensively renovated in 2002.
Ever concerned with the welfare of the Kehilla, Rav Breuer asked Rav Shimon Schwab, then Rav of Congregation She’arith Israel in Baltimore, to join him in the Rabbinate in 1958. With his command of the English language, Rav Schwab was a special influence on the younger members. Under his guidance, the Yeshiva added a S’micha program. His erudition and oratorical ability gained for him and the Kehilla world-wide renown. For 22 years, Rav Breuer and Rav Schwab worked together to develop the Kehilla in all its aspects. Rav Breuer was niftar in 1980; Rav Schwab was niftar in 1995.
In 1987, the Kehilla asked Rav Zachariah Gelley to join the Rabbinate and assume the position of Morah D'Asrah and Av Bais Din. Rav Gelley had been the Rosh Yeshiva in Sunderland, England for 22 years. In 2006 the Kehilla invited Rav Yisroel Mantel of Lucerne, Switzerland, to join the Rabbinate.
"The Kehilla needs a Yeshiva" was a repeated appeal by Rav Breuer. In 1944 the Yeshiva, named Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, was established and classes were held in the Shul building at 90 Bennett Avenue. Mr. Jacob Breuer was the elementary school Principal until he retired to Eretz Yisrael in 1986. Subsequent Principals were Rabbi Baruch Lichtenstein, Rabbi Reuven Drucker and Rabbi Nosson Adler; the present Principal, Rabbi Yehudah Moller, is a grandson of long-time president of the Kehilla, Dr. Raphael Moller. For decades Rabbi Emanuel Weldler served as secular studies principal of Junior High and High Schools. The Broadway Building was rebuilt as a school building in 1958 and the High School building next to the Shul was built in 1961. The Rika Breuer Teachers Seminary was established in 1963 under the leadership of Rabbi Joseph Elias. In 1973, the Mesivta and the Beth Medrash were relocated to a new building at 220 Bennett Avenue, named Beth Medrash al shem HoRav Shlomo Breuer.
The Beth Medrash was founded in 1958 by Rav Naftoli Friedler (the senior maggid shiur in the Yeshiva since 1948), who became the first Rosh Yeshiva. He was assisted by Rabbi Eliyohu Krieger who served the Yeshiva in various roles for over five decades. Rav Friedler was succeeded by, YB”L, Rav Yaakov Perlow, who in 1976 also assumed the position of the Novominsker Rebbe. During his tenure as Rosh Yeshiva the Kollel was started. In 1981, Rav Pinchos Kahn became Rosh Yeshiva; he was succeeded in 1986 by Rav Meir Levi, who is also the current rav of K’hal Adath Jeshurun of Monsey. Since 2009, Rav Yehoshua Rubanowitz has also held the title of Rosh Yeshiva. He has re-established a post-high school beis medrash program which has grown to over 70 bachurim.
Rav Breuer also oversaw the establishment of a Kashrus network, known for its integrity, as well as the gradual development of gemilus chessed institutions such as Chevros Kaddisho for men and women.
In 1947 Rav Breuer invited Rav Moshe Jacobovits to join him as Dayan of the Kehilla. Rav Jacobovits, a native of Lakenbach, Austria and a talmid of the Pressburg Yeshiva, assisted the Rav in the expanding Kashrus network and gave regular Shiurim. After his untimely passing in 1950, he was succeeded by Rav Eleazar Tarsis, a talmid of Rav Dr. Salomon Breuer and of Lithuanian yeshivos. In 1967, Rav Jacob Posen, a member of the Gateshead Kollel for many years, became the Dayan and in 1989 Rav Chaim Kohn became an additional Dayan of the Kehilla. Rav Eliyahu Glucksman joined the Kehilla in 1970 to serve the Rabbinate with particular involvement with the youth of the community and later became a Dayan of the Kehilla.
The burden of the administrative work of the Kehilla has been carried over the years by the Board of Trustees, headed first by Mr. Walter Joseph, followed by Dr. Raphael Moller, who served as president for 38 years. Rabbi Edwin Katzenstein succeeded Dr. Moller in 1980 and presided over the Kehilla at a crucial time after the petiros of Rav Breuer and Dr. Moller. Rabbi Katzenstein was succeeded in 1986 by Dr. Erich Erlbach, who served in that position until 2008. He was succeeded by Mr. Avram Cahn, who served for four years. Currently, Mr. Samson R. Bechhofer serves as president of the Kehilla.
Under Rav Breuer and his successors, the Rabbinate continues to adhere to the philosophy of "Independent Orthodoxy" which rejects both the legitimacy of other branches of Judaism and any dealings with organizations associated with them. KAJ also bases its approach and structure on Rav Hirsch's philosophy of "Torah im Derech Eretz", which encourages involvement in the modern world under the dominion of Torah without any compromise of loyalty to Torah and its precepts. Learning Torah is a core value of the Kehilla and there are many intensive shiurim and learning programs at various levels for men and women of all ages.
Unlike most Ashkenazic synagogues in the United States, which follow the Nusach Askhenaz ("Polish") liturgical rite, KAJ follows Minhag Ashkenaz ("German") in its liturgical text, practices, and melodies. Its first official Chazon was Mr. Abe Wertheim who was joined in 1949 by Mr. Robert R. Frankel (who officially “retired” in 1989 but continued davening at the Omud on many occasions through Shabbas Shuvah 2008 just days before he became ill and subsequently thereafter was niftar). In 1962, Mr. Frankel was joined by Rabbi David Kenner; after Chazen Frankel’s retirement, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kenner served as Chazon together with his father for a period of 10 years. In 2001, Mr. Ezra Hes and Rabbi Ezra Lasdun were appointed Chazonim. Chazan Lasdun continues to serve as the Kehilla’s official chazon. The Chazonim, Baale Tefillo and the men and boys of the choir take great pride in perpetuating the familiar Niggunim of the Kehilla.
True to the concept of a full service kehilla, KAJ comprises a synagogue offering shiurim and lectures, a yeshiva, a beth medrash and a social hall. The Kehilla also provides its members with a Mikveh, the services of a Chevra Kadisha and a renowned Kashrus supervision.