As holiday quiet hung over the Bronx neighborhood of Pelham Parkway early Monday morning, one of the few places bustling with activity was Congregation Sons of Israel on Cruger Avenue.
There, shouts of “Siman Tov U’Mazel Tov” echoed as a packed room celebrated dual milestones: The bar mitzvah of one congregant and the 90th birthday of another. After back-to-back aliyot, the two joined Rabbi Moshe Fuchs and other congregants in song and dance that harkened back to another era.
Except for Riverdale, the Jewish population in most of the Bronx has plummeted. But Sons of Israel continues to thrive because of an infusion of Russian-speaking Jews, and because of the efforts of Rabbi Fuchs, who promised his father, Yekutiel, the former rabbi, he would keep its doors open.
The polar celebrations were an expression of hope and faith for the participants as well as the congregation.
“We have seniors and we have youth, and hopefully that will keep us going,” said the rabbi, who travels to the Bronx from Far Rockaway to tend to the congregation, arranging not just minyans but holiday celebrations, such as a Chanukah party last week at Bronx House, and importing kosher food.
The newly nonagenarian Koppel Rieder has lived in the neighborhood for 52 years and attended the minyan regularly. “You could learn a lot from him,” Rabbi Fuchs told 13-year-old Haggai Nagdimov, who emigrated from Dagestan with his family. “Times in his life haven’t been easy, but he still wakes up early to come to minyan.”
Nagdimov’s family came to Pelham Parkway because a relative lived there, and have embraced the Jewish affiliation Sons of Israel provides. But with that affiliation comes choices. Haggai’s father, Alex, says he’s thinking about moving to a more Jewish neighborhood, like Mill Basin, in Brooklyn.
But for the moment, young and old joined together in a thoroughly Jewish, Dec. 25 morning.