By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
UPDATED 3:40 P.M.
The Kane Street Synagogue opened its doors on Sunday to the congregation of Christ Church-Cobble Hill, temporarily displaced while its building undergoes repairs.
The 117-foot tower of Christ Church, which was considered the tallest building in Cobble Hill, was severely damaged when lightning struck on July 26. The Department of Buildings closed the church building, and those phoning the church office hear a recorded announcement about the closure.
Falling debris is also blamed for the death of Richard Schwartz, a prominent Cobble Hill resident.
Rabbi Samuel Weintraub, spiritual leader of the Kane Street Synagogue, told the Brooklyn Eagle that one of the highest callings in Judaism is to offer hospitality and comfort in time of loss.
“We heard about the tragedy and immediately called the church and offered our services and our building. It was at an automatic level of response.
"In Hebrew we call it Hachnasat orchim, which is one of the six most righteous things that a person can do, and should do without measure,” said Rabbi Weintraub. “To give comfort to those who are wandering without homes or who are vulnerable. It is a very sacred and high task, and one cannot do enough of it, according to the Rabbis. And we had a relationship with the church.”
Another nearby Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s in Carroll Gardens, hosted the Christ Church congregation on the Sunday immediately following the tragedy. The Kane Street Synagogue, which is geographically much closer, offered the hospitality on Aug. 5. A sign was posted on the wooden barricade on Clinton Street near Kane Street, announcing this location for Christ Church’s Sunday Mass.
The Episcopal liturgy was held in the Social Hall of Kane Street Synagogue’s Goldman Educational Center, which is air-conditioned. The Very Rev. Ronald T. Lau, rector of Christ Church, was the celebrant, with Deacon Tony Bowen assisting. Rabbi Weintraub was present for the entire service, and was publicly thanked during the announcements. The hymns and Mass settings were all sung a cappella in the absence of a piano and accompanist.
Rabbi Weintraub said that the tragedy happening soclose to the occurrence of Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, has forged a new bond between his synagogue and Christ Church.
“The lightning struck the church two days before Tisha B’Av. This commemoration is sad because we mourn the loss of the ancient temple, we’re exiles. The loss of the spiritual home, or g’lut — exile in Judaism — is considered one of the greatest tragedies that befell the people. But one thing the rabbis were very insistent on: They said the shechina, God’s presence, stays with the people where they go. And it occurred to me that [Christ Church] is a religious community that has lost temporarily its spiritual home. But God’s spirit remains with them; and I think they’re really blessed to be in a community where people of all faiths, all ethnicities are eager to support them and be with them as they rebuild. Out of this tragedy, there really is some blessing.”
Rabbi Weintraub and Fr. Lau told the Eagle that Christ Church and Kane Street Synagogue are part of the Brooklyn Heights Clergy Association, which is very active.
Meanwhile, a block away, crews from Gateway Demolition were continuing to work on securing the church tower, even on a Sunday. Last week, workers had begun removing the finials from the tower.
The Rev. Canon Shawn Duncan, Canon for Media and Mission and Chief Information Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday that their priority continues to be the safety of the church members and neighborhood.
Canon Duncan said that, further in time, “there are plans to do engineering studies and get estimates. All of that is not in the immediate, because the initial work has to be done to stabilize the building.
“My understanding of what’s currently going on is that they are removing loose or damaged stone from on top of the tower; and that is going to continue until they reach a point of stability. I can’t tell you how long that work is going to last or how long it’s going to take, because the end point is going to be discovered in the process — the point at which the stone is stable — and then they’ll stop.”
Canon Duncan said he hopes to have more knowledge of the next steps later this week.
“I do know that Bishop Provenzano visited Christ Church immediately in the days following the storm damage. He’s already been there,” said Canon Duncan. Plans for the bishop to visit the congregation during a Sunday Mass have not yet been announced.