On Saturday, January 28, 1989, Congregation Or Zarua held its first service with some 35 people in attendance at the 92 Street YMHA. Shabbat services were held once per month at the “Y” until after that year’s High Holidays services, which were held in the Jewish Museum. The Congregation’s first sukkah was built on the 92nd Street Y’s roof. Rabbi Harlan J. Wechsler is Or Zarua’s founding rabbi; Mimi Alperin was the Congregation’s first president.The name Or Zarua comes from Psalm 97:11 – “Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright of heart” – and was chosen before the Congregation’s first service.
The Congregation rented space in a building at 1384 Lexington Avenue, across from the “Y”; the space housed the synagogue offices, the Rabbi’s office and a classroom, and the building’s back yard was the location of Or Zarua’s sukkah.
In the fall of 1990 Or Zarua began its Hebrew School as an afternoon program housed at the Nightingale-Bamford School on East 92nd Street. The Hebrew School remained at this location until the Congregation opened its own building in 2003.
In 1993 the Congregation purchased the Waldensian Church at 127 East 82nd Street and refurbished it as a synagogue, conducting its first service there in May. After purchasing the building the members of Or Zarua were surprised to find in the basement a stone yahrzeit plaque from the late 1920s – the first clue as to the building’s interesting religious history. As it turned out, the church was originally built as a synagogue in the early 1880s by Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun. After “KJ” sold the building in 1904, a series of synagogues used it until 1950, when it was purchased by the Waldensian Church.
Or Zarua lived in the refurbished building for five years before beginning construction of its present building. Our new building was opened in spring 2003 and is featured in Henri Stoltzman’s book Synagogue Architecture In America. About two-thirds of the Congregation’s children attend Or Zarua’s Hebrew School and the other one-third attend Jewish Day Schools.