Manhattan, NY – Rabbi Keeps Off Women from Board of LES Orthodox Synagogue

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    Bialystoker Synagogue Manhattan, NY – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s synagogue wants to keep the “men” in mensch.

    The Lower East Side’s historic Bialystoker Synagogue is facing a revolt from its female members, who want to run for positions on the synagogue’s board of governors.

    But the rabbi has stuck to the Orthodox congregation’s tradition — and told women members they can’t hold positions of authority.

    “I’m very unhappy about it,” said member Debra Engelmayer, who claimed several families have left over the issue.

    It’s not only the women who are angry.

    “It’s been a boy’s club since Day One,” said member Daniel Cohen of the ornate temple on Willett Street, where women pray on the upstairs balcony, separated from men. “I’d like to think that it’s a progressive synagogue, but it’s not.”

    Silver, who had his bar mitzvah there, was a vice president of the synagogue for decades — until he ditched the job in June.

    “Silver walked away from his position on the board — he finished off his term and didn’t run for re-election,” said Debra’s husband, Juda Engelmayer.

    Some members suspect the cautious Silver is forgoing the leadership role because of the anti-woman decree.

    A spokesman said Silver could not be reached for comment because of the Jewish holidays.

    The Bialystoker Synagogue has long been central to Jewish life on the Lower East Side. Immigrants from Bialystok, Poland, formed the congregation in 1865, and it now occupies a circa-1826 Methodist church.

    But the flap has divided the house of worship. David Cohen, a housing-court judge, also left the board this summer.

    The synagogue’s president — elected after the decree forbidding female board members — is Shlomo Hagler, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge.

    The fight began in May when a majority of the congregation voted to allow women to run for board positions. After member Janet Riesel announced her intention to run, Rabbi Zvi David Dromm announced his edict at a sparsely attended Saturday-morning service.

    Debra Engelmayer called Dromm’s decision — coming after a public vote and while women were putting themselves forward as candidates — “disrespectful.”

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