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Bayside Jewish Center celebrates 75 years

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When Sanford Schwartz first discovered the Bayside Jewish Center in 1964, he saw an energetic place so flourishing with activity that he decided to stay.

“It was as busy as can be,” Schwartz said of his first visit to the center. “It had a thriving school, the Boy Scouts and other groups met here. I was so impressed, and before I knew it I was on the board.”

With a rich 75-year history behind it, the Bayside Jewish Center was getting ready last week to celebrate both its past and future with an anniversary dinner dance this Sunday night at the center’s ballroom. The center is at the intersection of 32nd Avenue and 203rd Street in Bayside.

What began in a storefront in Bayside in 1926 has evolved into the oldest and one of the most active Jewish centers in northeast Queens, said Schwartz, a past president of the organization.

“Over the years we have been involved with so many activities,” Schwartz said.     

Dr. William Orentlicher, the rabbi who has presided over the sprawling center for 49 years, said it serves an important function in the Jewish faith.

“In Jewish life the synagogue plays much more of a role in the life of a person than in any other religion,” he said. “It is a house of worship, of assembly, and of education.”

The Bayside Jewish Center began in the late 1920s when several families began meeting in a storefront owned by the Muss family, a group of developers who helped build homes in Bayside just several blocks from where its current building sits.

As the congregation grew over time a few smaller groups joined together to form what is now the Bayside Jewish Center.

Today the center performs its role in the community by catering to those needs in a variety of ways, including serving as a meeting place for community groups and social events, playing host to a vibrant school, and being a leader within the Jewish community of northeast Queens.

Describing Bayside as “a model community,” Orentlicher said the relationship between the center and the surrounding neighborhoods has been ideal.

“It’s been a very lovely community,” he said.

Schwartz added “it speaks very well of the community that we’ve been able to exist all these years and that we’re doing OK.”

Orentlicher described the center’s 75th anniversary as a birthday.

“It’s a very important event,” he said. “But whether you would have been 75 or 50, when you have a birthday, you enjoy it.”

Schwartz said the anniversary “means a lot. We’ve had a good reception.”

The dinner dance, slated to be held in the center’s large ballroom at 5 p.m. Sunday, is an opportunity for the congregation to recognize the anniversary in a fundamental way.

Orentlicher said “we wanted to celebrate it at home.”

For more information about the Bayside Jewish Center call 352-7900.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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