Benjamin Aminoff first came to what is now the 47th Street Synagogue in Manhattan some 40 years ago when he moved to the United States from Jerusalem to work as a colored stones salesman. “It was the only synagogue that was convenient for me to come and pray,” says Aminoff, who believes himself to be the synagogue’s oldest member.

Aminoff, who still comes to the diamond business building’s third floor synagogue daily to attend services, says he’s excited to see the crowd at services growing under the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch of Midtown Manhattan, which assumed leadership of the 60-year-old synagogue late last year.

Located in the heart of the Diamond District in a building indistinguishable from the others around it, the synagogue offers services, Torah classes and a community for those working in the area as well as passing through.

Known as the Radio City Synagogue, it transitioned leadership late last year, when Rabbi Jonah Weinberg, who had previously led the synagogue, became sick. Chabad was approached about stepping in to keep the synagogue going. Weinberg’s son, Rabbi Moshe Weinberg, helped keep the synagogue together while the transition took place, and in September, Rabbi Shmuly Levitin assumed the pulpit.

“We continue the 60 year-tradition of the Radio City Synagogue, plus we bring to it the added dimension of Chabad of the Diamond District,” says Chabad of Midtown Manhattan director Rabbi Joshua Metzger, whose organization runs six affiliate locations in that part of New York City.

David Barel, a diamond dealer who has been coming to the synagogue for at least 20 years, says he’s thrilled about the energy the new rabbi has brought to the synagogue, which he considers a second home.

“The rabbi brings life to the places, gives talks about the weekly Torah portion,” explains Barel, who lives in New Jersey. “People need some nutrition daily. Thank G‑d we get it through Chabad.”

Bookshelves line the walls by the entrance into the space, which houses two long tables and a series of folding chairs. Posters in Hebrew hang around the synagogue, which is open from 10:00 in the morning until 6:00 or 6:30 in the evening. The ark, the traditional cabinet where the Torah is kept, is against the front wall. A sign on the door lets people know they’ve picked the right knob to turn when they emerge from the elevators down the tiled hallway.

Now that it’s open all day, people can use the synagogue as a resource, popping in to ask questions about various Jewish issues and logistics, says Yoel Taub, of Monsey, N.Y. The building used to only be open during prayer times, he notes, adding that people use it as a base for spiritual activity away from the workplace.

“The lights are on, people can come anytime, sit and learn, pray, schmooze,” he says. “It makes people feel welcome. Now people in the middle of the day know a place where they could be.”

Taub also likes the synagogue’s setup. While other services take place in random rooms in various buildings, this offers an official synagogue setting.

“You walk in and say ‘now I’m in a Torah world,’ ” he says.

Today, the former Radio City Synagogue’s daily prayer services are packed with a mix of locals, transient businessmen and tourists.
Today, the former Radio City Synagogue’s daily prayer services are packed with a mix of locals, transient businessmen and tourists.

Barry Beifeld, who lives in Philadelphia but comes into New York City on business, started attending services at the Radio City Synagogue in May after his mother’s death so that he could say the traditional mourner’s prayer known as Kaddish.

“I appreciate the fact that it’s right there, right in the middle of the business district and it’s easy for me to get to,” he says. “There’s real camaraderie, and there’s a sense of being with a good kind of person, so that’s good.”

While the crowd is often a blend of religious and secular, locals and visitors, Beifeld feels comfortable being part of the mix.

“I feel totally comfortable, because they’re fellow Jews and I feel the connection there,” he says. “It’s important people stand there together knowing they’re part of this group and part of this community.”

The synagogue is also home to a daily Daf Yomi study group, which has been analyzing a different page of the Talmud each day for several years. It also sponsors holiday-related activities that spill out onto the streets. During Chanukah, for example, the synagogue gave out hundreds of menorahs, and on Sukkot, it provided a space for people to enjoy the holiday.

“It’s really a vibrant place, the whole area,” says Levitin. “And it’s an honor to be able to help people and do good work.”

The synagogue currently sees an estimated 200 people a day during various study sessions and services, adds the rabbi. And it’s now embarking on a campaign to remodel and refurbish the space.

“Little by little,” Aminoff says of the changes that have taken place. “You see more books already.”