An Orthodox synagogue in need of repairs and under scrutiny from The Department of Licenses and Inspections will open for the High Holidays.

By Lorraine Gennaro
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Sep. 25, 2008

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In Hebrew, "L'shanah tovah" means "for a good year," a popular greeting at Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.

For Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron-Heysiner-Ezras Israel, better known as "Little Shul," the new year, which begins sundown Monday, is starting off on a fantastic note.

After shutting its doors after last year's High Holidays to fix structural problems, the three-story rowhouse at 2015 S. Fourth St. that is South Philly's only remaining Orthodox synagogue will be open for this year's High Holidays starting with Rosh Hashana and ending sundown Oct. 9 with Yom Kippur.

"I'm very excited. We are carrying on a tradition in that building for the 99th year. I don't think they've ever missed a year. I didn't want to be the one to start, not on my watch," congregation President Rich Sisman told the Review.

A year or even six months ago, opening at all seemed impossible given the thousands in repairs and two Department of Licenses & Inspections-issued citations, the first of which came Sept. 5, 2007, for a deteriorated rear wall. A second came June 19 for the same problem. Last year, the congregation spent $10,000 to knock down the wall. At least $30,000 in repairs are still needed just for structural and exterior work, but help is on the way in the form of volunteers and a state-issued grant.

Elkins Park resident Sisman, who grew up on the same block as the Jewish temple and worshipped there with his family, has worked tirelessly to save the place. What started as essentially a one-man crusade has blossomed into a city- and even statewide effort in the aftermath of the Review's "Preserving the past" about the synagogue's uncertain future.

"We got a lot of response," Sisman said about the Aug. 7 article.

After reading the story, Joel Spivak, an architect and historian from the 600 block of Carpenter Street, called Sisman and offered his services free of charge. It's not the first time Spivak, a fixture in the area since the 1960s, has done charity work. Last year, when a single mother and her children's Whitman house was destroyed by fire, Spivak contacted them so they could rebuild.

In addition to providing blueprints and dealing with L&I on behalf of the synagogue, Spivak called upon his vast arsenal of industry contacts, all of whom are working for free or at a low rate to get the synagogue back on its feet, he said, adding he and his crew will be with the project at least through year's end. A contractor will seal off the back of the building and engineers will help with the overall evaluation of the nearly 100-year-old edifice.

"We have come together many times over the years to help people who need it," the architect said, adding it's his way of giving back.

Tuesday, a cleaning crew spent the morning sprucing up the interior, polishing the wooden pews, sweeping the floor and readying the place for next week's services. Spivak was involved in this as well, calling friend Michael Samcheck, owner of Clean Tech Services in Center City.

One Clean Tech worker told the Review, "It's a beautiful place, it would be a shame not to save it."

There's still a long way to go as the entire structure is badly deteriorated and in need of extensive repairs both inside and out with chipped paint throughout, water-damaged floors, a non-working bathroom and other issues. A $25,000 grant courtesy of 1st District State Sen. Vince Fumo should help get things going.

About 15 years ago, Councilman-at-large Jim Kenney, who grew up in the Shul's neighborhood, offered to help preserve a piece of this once-predominately Jewish neighborhood's past, Sisman said. The congregation president at the time refused, according to Sisman. When Kenney approached the 50-year-old president last year, he got a different response.

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Comments 1 - 6 of 6
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1. rsisman said... on Sep 25, 2008 at 11:51AM

“This is truly a wonderful article. I’d just to like to make one minor correction. The current name is Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron Ezras Israel, Heysiner was dropped in the late sixty’s or early seventy’s. A schedule of services and contact information can be found at our website, On behalf of the congregation, I would like to thank Lorraine and Greg (the photographer) for their hard work and efforts on this. Wishing you a Healthy and Happy New Year, Rich Sisman President Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron Ezras Israel ”

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2. R. Trencher said... on Sep 25, 2008 at 03:27PM

“A wonderful article. It takes me back to my youth in Philly. I would accompany my grandfather to an Orthodox shul on Monroe Street between 4th and 5th streets. My parents attended Neziner a Conservative synogogue on 2nd Street near Monroe. I observed the Jewish migration to suburbs and Oxford Circle etc. My family stayed put on Pine Street pre Society Hill. A great place to grow up and mix with every ethnic group and race. While not officially SP we were close and many of our friends lived in SP. Great memories.”

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3. Janice Jakubowitcz said... on Sep 26, 2008 at 05:02AM

“I am so proud of the accomplishments that Rich Sisman is making on behalf of the Little Shul. He proves that there are caring, good people in the world.”

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4. Janice S. Wilson said... on Sep 26, 2008 at 12:48PM

“The article is wonderful. All of us at "The Little Shul" are grateful for your support! I have a small correction. My f family and I live in Overbrook Park, not in Mt. Airy. My South Philly roots are srong, In 1910, my father was born in the building at 2nd & Moore that is now the Greater Overbrook String Band clubhouse. At the time, his parents had a store at 4th and McKean, near The Little Shul! My mother's grandparents raised their family of ten in South Philadelphia, and lived on Fairhill Street near Oregon Avenue when I was a young child. Recently, I've been a member of two Mummers clubs. L'shana tova tikatavu! May all of our New Years be happy, healthy, and prosperous! Janice Wilson Director of Development Cong. Shivtei Yeshurun Ezras Isral ”

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5. Minnie said... on Jul 4, 2009 at 03:43PM

“I just wanted to make a correction. This is an Orthodox synagogue you are talking about. As such, it is not called a "temple". That is a term used only for Reform houses of worship. Orthodox Judaism believes there is only one "Temple", and that is the one which was destroyed in 70 CE.”

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6. rabbi howard diamond said... on Dec 15, 2010 at 03:50PM

“Yasher Koach Rich Sisman !!!”


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