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Synagogue to celebrate 50th anniversary

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Nearly 50 years ago Pearl Grumet walked into a store on Utopia Parkway — not to buy groceries, but to sit down and pray.

Grumet was not alone. The Clearview Jewish Center had just been founded, and its fledgling congregation leased a store on the Whitestone street.

“We were meeting in a store — in a basement in a store,” said Grumet. “You were looking forward to having a building, but you were with people and you prayed together. At that time it was a sanctuary.”

This weekend members of the Clearview Jewish Center are celebrating the congregation’s 50th anniversary. The ceremony will culminate Sunday with dinner and dancing, attended by former members traveling from across the country to see their old friends.

The center was established in 1952 to accommodate residents of a Whitestone apartment complex known as Clearview Gardens. Built in the 1950s, Clearview Gardens served mostly Jewish residents who had started families in the baby boom following the end of World War II.

In response to a pamphlet handed out in the community, a small group gathered in the home of Abraham Molin, a dentist, on April 17, 1952 and planned what would become the Clearview Jewish Center.

While meeting in two storefronts on Utopia Parkway, the congregation raised money to build a permanent synagogue. In 1957, the congregation began constructing the temple at its current location at 16-50 Utopia Pkwy.

“It was a lovely neighborhood, but it was very bare,” recalled Blanche Eisenberg, one of the founding members of the traditional conservative congregation. “There wasn’t a tree or a blade of grass until we went and built.”

The area was mostly farmland, and the members of the congregation worked to plant trees in the environs of the synagogue, Eisenberg said.

The Clearview Jewish center became a social and cultural center for many local residents.

“We had good times,” Grumet said. “We used to put on plays, shows. It was a very lively center.”

Like many churches and synagogues in northeastern Queens, attendance at the Clearview Jewish Center has shrunk in recent years. Once at 500, the membership is now about half that, although holding steady, said Toby Oknowsky, the center’s president.

“It’s gone down,” said Eisenberg. “A lot of them have passed away, the children have moved away. A lot of them moved out to the island and made their own communities.”

Oknowsky, who has been preparing for the upcoming weekend celebration for a year, said interest in the congregation has recently increased, due in part to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

“We’ve seen a lot of people who started coming back who didn’t attend as often,” she said. “When something hits your heart, you go right to God.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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