A procession of singing and dancing people, in a celebratory mood, usually escorts Torah scrolls to their new home in the ark of a synagogue or yeshiva.
The procession from the Sixteenth Street Synagogue in Manhattan last week was somber; it ended at the trunk of Richard McBee’s car.
On the last day of the Midtown Orthodox congregation, which was evicted from its longtime site after a long court battle, some 50 worshippers gathered in the pews. (The building’s former owner, the National Council of Young Israel, had moved out in the 1990s, and the officers of the synagogue that met there for 67 years unsuccessfully sued the building’s new owners for the right to remain.) They prayed a final afternoon Mincha service, recited Psalms, removed a few last belongings from the premises and walked four scrolls, wrapped in tallitot, around the corner to the vehicle of McBee, the shul’s president.
McBee, an artist, took down the mezuzah from the shul’s front doorpost and drove the sifrei Torah to a Manhattan synagogue where they will be stored in “a safe place” until his congregation finds a new, permanent venue.
In the meantime, the congregants — those who live in Midtown, and those who work there and drop by during the working day for a minyan — are holding prayer services at a few nearby sites: the Conservative Synagogue of Fifth Avenue, the Chabad Loft at 144 Fifth Ave., and New York University’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life.
The Sixteenth Street Synagogue’s final prayer service, which drew more than the usual number of worshippers, had the earmarks of a funeral, McBee says. “People were crying. It was very emotional. All there memories were there.”
When they left, he says, “they looked behind,” at the building, for the last time.