Tifereth temple kicks off million-dollar renovation

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A Corona Jewish temple that had for decades been unheard of by the borough at large is getting a makeover for its 100th birthday.

Borough President Helen Marshall, conservationists and members of the congregation did not quite hold a groundbreaking for the Tifereth Israel Synagogue, but they did tap a hammer lightly against one of the walls June 22 to kick off a more than $1.6 million renovation that will restore the temple’s exterior to its former glory.

“Our city does treasure old buildings,” Marshall said. “This building is full of history.”

Originally built in 1911, the temple, at 109-18 54th Ave., is now the spiritual home of 300 Jews, many of them Russian-speaking, elderly and low-income, said Rabbi Amnun Khainov. The rabbi has been the leader of the temple for 15 years.

“We love the building. It’s a real synagogue,” said Esther Khainov, the rabbi’s wife. She said the 50-foot-by-100-foot structure is unlike modern synagogues, which are often much larger.

Conservationists have been interested, however, in the synagogue for about 20 years. Jim Driscoll, of the Queens Historical Society, said in 1991 that the society located the temple during a survey of Corona and awarded it a “Queensmark” designation. Since then, the temple has been put on landmark registers with the state and city.

“We started the process, at least in my opinion,” Driscoll said.

Recently, the private New York Landmarks Conservancy has been working with the congregation to restore the synagogue. Ann Friedman, director of the organization’s Sacred Sites program, which specializes in restoring religious buildings, said the building is wood but was covered with stucco in the 1930s. The restoration will remove the stucco, as it is holding in the moisture causing the wood window frames to rot.

After the frame of the house is insulated, the wood siding will be replaced. The windows will also be replaced with ones that are more environmentally friendly. Finally, the building will be repainted.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to determine the historic paint colors,” Friedman said.

Through grants from various sources, mostly conservation groups and congregation members, the congregation has raised more than $1.6 million, with Marshall pitching in $1.1 million.

The borough president said she felt an attraction to the temple because it reminded her of those she had seen growing up in the Bronx.

“Synagogues don’t look like this anymore,” Marshall said.

Both Esther Khainov said the restoration could not have begun without the dedication of the Landmarks Conservancy.

“I don’t think we are going to make it without them,” she said.

But Judge Sidney Strauss, a friend of the temple, said it was Esther Khaniov’s dedication that has kept the 100-year-old temple standing.

“She is an unbelievable human being,” Strauss said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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