Many Jews who immigrated to Brooklyn from Eastern Europe settled in the area of lower Fulton Street between Borough Hall and Fulton Ferry. Then, as now, there was a need for a House of Worship, a House of Learning and a House of Meeting. On May 8, 1882, Chevra Mount Sinai was incorporated, and, for many years, services and meetings were held in the homes of members and in rented halls. On May 5, 1909, the corporate name was changed to Congregation Mount Sinai and title was taken to a building at 305 State Street. High Holy Day services were held there for the first time that fall.
The Congregation continued to expand its activities, and its influence was felt more and more in the downtown section of Brooklyn. There were many ambitious plans for the future, but they were tragically snuffed out when the beautiful building on State Street was destroyed by fire in the early hours of Sunday morning, January 4, 1948. Congregation Jacob Joseph on Atlantic Avenue offered its facilities, and Congregation Mount Sinai conducted all of its services and activities there until October 1949, when the Congregation moved to 305 Schermerhorn Street. The Synagogue remained there until October 1982, when that building was sold and facilities for a new Synagogue at 250 Cadman Plaza West were acquired under a long-term lease.
The history of a congregation is inextricably bound up with its spiritual leadership. Congregation Mount Sinai has been quite fortunate in this regard. From the time of its founding in 1882 until the move to the building on State Street in 1909, Dr. Louis Pulvermacher served as Rabbi and Cantor. After the move to State Street, the community was served by Rabbis Jacob Minkin, Louis B. Michaelson, Morris Silverman, and Alexander Basel. From the fall of 1924 until September 1972, a period of almost forty-eight years, the name of Rabbi Isadore A. Aaron was synonymous with that of Congregation Mount Sinai. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik became the congregation’s spiritual leader in September 1972. Over 42 years, he initiated many new programs and activities. His erudition, his oratory, and his sense of humor have made for many pleasant hours for all those within the sound of his voice. In 1999, Rabbi Potasnik was appointed as the Jewish Chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. On September 11, 2001, Rabbi Potasnik and members of the Mount Sinai staff and congregation were instrumental in serving as a “triage center” for people who were walking from Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge. In 2003, Rabbi Potasnik became the Executive Vice-President of the New York Board of Rabbis, the world’s largest interdenominational rabbinic organization. In 2013, Congregation Mount Sinai welcomed Rabbi Seth Wax as its spiritual leader. Over the years, Mount Sinai has served a prominent role in hosting prayer services and solidarity gatherings, and has served as a central meeting place for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The congregation maintains a vibrant presence in Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, and Downtown Brooklyn, and looks forward to serving the community for many years to come. The community is excited to welcome its newest Head Rabbi Hanniel Levenson. He is a native New Yorker and looks forward to building a body-mind-spiritual practice at CMS.