Central Synagogue would not be the bastion of Reform Judaism it is without its dedicated leaders, past and present. On this page you can see the faces of our senior rabbis who led our congregation to form our vibrant synagogue community.
Rabbi Max Lilienthal
(Congregation Shaar Hashomayim)
Max Lilienthal became the first rabbi of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim (Gates of Heaven) in 1845, having just arrived from Russia, where he had served several Jewish communities. The Shaar Hashomayim was established in 1839 and up to that time had been led by layleaders. Dr. Lilienthal was considered a circuit rabbi, as at that time he was also the rabbi for Anchi Chesed and Rodeph Sholom. As a rabbi very interested in reforming Jewish observance and practice, he introduced in addition to overseeing bar mitzvahs, he also conducted confirmation for boys and girls and even the celebration of the 4th of July.
Rabbi Raphael Lasker
(Congregation Shaar Hashomayim)
Rabbi Solomon Sonnenschein
(Congregation Shaar Hashomayim)
Dr. Adolph Huebsch, Rabbi
(First Rabbi of Congregation Ahawath Chesed)
Adolph Huebsch was the first rabbi of our founding synagogue Ahawath Chesed (Love of Mercy), established in 1846. He was brought to America in 1865, from Bohemia, where he had fought against tyranny and oppression, by the laymen of Ahawath Chesed. He stood with Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise at the founding of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1875. Rabbi Huebsch developed the prayer book that was used by Ahawath Chesed as well as by many other congregations. He continued as a moderate reformer, respecting the past and being sensitive to the present.
Dr. Alexander Kohut, Rabbi
Alexander Kohut, a scion of a family tradition of many rabbis, came to Ahawath Chesed in 1885. He championed the Conservative position, serving as a professor of Talmudic methodology at the Jewish Theological Seminary. In his desire to make the pages of the Talmud accessible to Jews and non-Jews, he compiled a Talmudic lexicon known as Aruch Completim, which was supported by our congregation.
Dr. David Davidson, Rabbi
(Congregation Ahawath Chesed Shaar Hashomayim)
Dr. Isaac S. Moses
Rabbi Emeritus: 1918-1919
Isaac S. Moses came to what was now the merged synagogues of Ahawath Chesed-Shaar Hashomayim in 1901. After his early years were spent as a religious teacher and then as rabbi of a number of pulpits in the Midwest. He was our last rabbi to preach in German, although not primarily, as he also added English. He did deliver his sermons solely in English. Rabbi Moses became our rabbi emeritus in 1918.
Dr. Nathan Krass, Rabbi
(First Rabbi of Central Synagogue)
Nathan Krass became rabbi of our congregation in 1918, the year in which the combined synagogues became known as Central Synagogue. He preached solely in English and was a staunch supporter of Hebrew Union College and our first rabbi to be educated there.
Dr. Stephen S. Wise, Rabbi
Stephen S. Wise was born in Budapest and came to the United States when he was seventeen months old. His rabbinate was based on the theme of the role of the religious leader in the welfare of the larger community as “the conscience of the state.” He was with Central Synagogue for two years as he oversaw a well-intentioned but short-lived merger between Central Synagogue and the Free Synagogue. Rabbi Wise went on to found the Jewish Institute of Religion, which merged with HUC in 1948.
Dr. Jonah B. Wise, Rabbi
Jonah B. Wise was the son of Isaac Mayer Wise, founder and architect of American Reform Judaism. His influence on the Jewish community as well as his labors on behalf of the general welfare endeared him to people of all faiths. He reached beyond the synagogue to answer the challenges confronting the Jewish people. He went to Germany in 1933, two months after Hitler came to power, and reported, prophetically, that continental Jews were doomed. It was said that “he was the most important single individual responsible for raising relief funds that came from America.”
Dr. David J. Seligson
Associate Rabbi: 1945-1959
Rabbi Emeritus: 1972-1999
David J. Seligson was ordained in 1933 in the midst of the Depression. After enlisting in the army and serving with distinction, Rabbi Seligson returned to the United States whereupon he was invited by Rabbi Jonah B. Wise to become assistant rabbi at Central Synagogue. Dr. Seligson became associate rabbi and then, upon Rabbi Wise’s death, rabbi. He became rabbi emeritus in 1972
Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman
Assistant Rabbi: 1970-1972
Senior Rabbi: 1972-1985
Sheldon Zimmerman’s rabbinate at Central was marked by an extensive program of education for adults as well as children. He instituted a College of Jewish Studies, which attracted many from the community at large. He believed that the synagogue should reach out to the larger community, continuing the interfaith relationship that Rabbis Wise and Seligson had fostered with St. Peters Lutheran Church.
Rabbi Harold I. SapersteinHarold I. Saperstein was an interim rabbi at Central Synagogue after retiring as rabbi at Temple Emanu-El of Lynbrook. He was Past President of NY Board of Rabbis and NY Association of Reform Rabbis. He was a tireless champion in defense of Israel, Soviet Jewry and social justice in America.
Rabbi Stanley M. Davids
Stanley Davids’ tenure as senior rabbi of Central Synagogue began during Central’s 150th year. His energy and dedication enriched the lives of its congregants. He brought a unique quality and spirit to our services and he instituted adult courses with teachers that dew from our own rabbis and staff as well as outstanding personalities from many fields.
Peter J. Rubinstein was Central Synagogue’s Senior Rabbi for twenty-three years. During his tenure Central developed from being a local New York City synagogue to one that stands out in national and worldwide importance. He oversaw the rebuilding of the sanctuary after a major fire in 1998 and was the inspiration that held the congregation together during the tumultuous aftermath. He stood arm in arm with dignitaries at its reconsecration two days before the attacks of 9/11.
Angela Warnick Buchdahl became Central Synagogue’s first female senior rabbi in 2014. She is the first Asian-American to be ordained as a rabbi as well as a cantor. Rabbi Buchdahl had previously been the Senior Cantor at Central Synagogue. Prior to coming to Central Synagogue, Rabbi Buchdahl was associate rabbi and cantor at Westchester Reform Temple. Central Synagogue was honored when she was invited to light the Hanukah candles at the White House in 2014.
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