As a result of the 1979 Iranian revolutions, Great Neck, NY saw a vast influx of Jewish immigrants in need of a place to live, thrive, and pray. Before the wave of immigration, the few hundred Iranian Jews living in the Great Neck area attended one of three local synagogues: Temple Israel, Great Neck Synagogue, or Forest Hills Synagogue. However, with a rapidly growing population, community members sought out a new place to call their own, which catered to their specific customs; that place we know today as Kenissa Beth Hadassa.
It all started in 1979, when Moosa Ohebshalom, and his son Parviz, rented a tent and one hundred folding chairs in the backyard of the Great Neck Synagogue for the high holy days to hold an Iranian Minyan. The Rabbi of the Great Neck Synagogue addressed the makeshift congregation while Dr. Ohebshalom translated. The community realized the growing need to find a more permanent location to hold their services, and spent the next ten years looking for one.
From 1980 until 1983, the congregation moved into the gym of the Great Neck Synagogue and paid a small rent for the privilege. The small, but tightly knit community could pray the Friday night services together in a Kenissa that followed their customs.
However, the budding congregation soon outgrew the gym, and, in 1983, they rented the basement of a reform Synagogue, Temple Beth-El, for a small fee. To add a degree of permanence, they outfitted it with chairs and Persian rugs. However, they still searched for a Kenissa to call their own.
At the time, Mr. Mehdizadeh owned an old, vacant, cinema house on Middle Neck road, and he opened it up to the congregation free of charge in 1986. They stayed in that building for the next five years. At this point, the number of congregants grew to over 350 people.
In 1990 they bought a lot, which used to house tennis courts, and began construction on what would finally be a permanent Kenissa. Money came in from everywhere, community members donating hundreds and thousands of dollars. Moussa Mehdizadeh sponsored a fundraising event in his house one evening that raised over $500,000. The congregation honored several members in whose names the community collectively donated, including Mr. Isaac Yousian, and Mrs. and Mrs. Moreh, still vital members of the Kenissa.
Professor Nasser David Khalili, a relative of several members of the congregation, living in London at the time donated one million dollars in 1990 and asked that the Kenissa be named after his late mother, Hadassa. That is how the Kenissa got its name: Kenissa Beth Hadassa.
Mr. Mehdizadeh purchased a beautiful stained glass window from an antique dealer, who found it at a demolished Shul in New Jersey, with some of the donated money, and installed it where it can be seen today. Altogether, the construction cost upward of three to four million dollars.
It was at this time that the Kenissa began holding weekday morning minyanim in addition to the Sabbath services. Since then, the Kenissa has only one minyan for each service because the congregation values praying together as a community.
The early founders of Kenissa Beth Hadassa, include:
Mr. & Mrs. Nourollah Elghanian (In blessed memory.)
Mr. & Mrs.Moussa Mehdizadeh
Mr. & Mrs.Yousef Ohebsion
Mr. & Mrs. Fred Ohebshalom
Mr. & Mrs. Nejat Moezinia
Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Mehdizadeh
Mr. & Mrs. Abraham Daizadeh
Mr. & Mrs. Davood Assilzadeh
Mr. & Mrs. Nasser Nazarian
Mr. & Mrs.Ayoub Moinian
Mr. & Mrs.Eshagh Shamouelian
Mr. & Mrs.Davood Adhami
Mr. & Mrs.Khanbaba Rokhsar
Mr. Eliajou Moreh & Mrs. Esther Moreh
Mr. & Mrs.Moti Movtady
Mr. & Mrs.Jacob Movtady
Mr. & Mrs.Ebraham Harounian
The small community was surprisingly self-sufficient, and everyone pitched in to helping the inexperienced immigrants settle into their new homes and lives here in America. The founders of the Kenissa valued their religious independence so as not to be a burden on any other community. By establishing their own Kenissa, they were able to preserve their distinct traditions after the exodus to America.
Dr. Ohebshalom helped by translating medical booklets, as well as offering free immunizations after work at his home. His wife Minu and Rabbi Waxman of Temple Israel began an organization called Iranian Mother of America, also known as IMA (”mother” in Hebrew) to help the recent immigrants acclimate to their new surroundings. Mrs. Ohebshalom would go so far as to walk children to their new schools in the morning.
Twelve members of the Kenissa Beth Haddasa founded the Iranian American Jewish National Fund. Additionally, Sandogh Mmeli charity, an IRS approved foundation, began in the Kenissa, and offers direct-to-organization financial support for needy families. They engage in charitable work such as subsidizing rent, school tuition, and when the need arises, paying for the chevra kadisha and burial services.
In addition to holding weekday and Sabbath Services, Kenissa Beth Hadassa also serves as a catering hall for semachot such as bar mitzvahs, engagement parties, fundraising, honorings, parties, and when the need arises, funerals. The Kenissa owns about three acres of land and is waiting for more money to come in order to develop them into a community center, a school, and an old age home, along with other community buildings.
They would not have a Kenissa or the opportunity to offer these many charitable services if it were not for their long list of esteemed benefactors:
Professor Nasser David Khalili: main sanctuary
Victoria, Norollah Elghanayan and Mehdizadeh Family: antique stained glass
Victoria and Rouhollah Kalimian: Beth Midrash Sanctuary
Ohebshalom Family in memory of Moussa Ohebshalom: bronze menorah
Professor Nasser David Khalili: Hekhal curtain
Kalimian Family in memory of Morad Kalimian: Hekhal (Aaron Kodesh)
Khorshid, David, and Hercel Harounian: Mishkan (teva)
Miss Heshmat Sassouni in memory of David Sassouni: main sanctuary chandelier
Movtady brothers in memory of Yhazkel Movtady: library
Ohebshalom family in memory of Parviz Ohebshalom: Bet Midrash Hekhal curtain
Farokh and Aghajan Rabizadeh: Bet Midrash
Victoria and Nasser Damaghi: office of the synagogue
Chadi family in memory of Saeed David Chadi: memorial plaque
Violet and Jack Harounian: Bet Midrash Hekhal (aron Kodash)
Nourollah Chadi in memory of Hakham Davoud Chadi: Rabbi study