Rabbi Dr. David Halpern is stepping down from the pulpit at Flatbush Park Jewish Center after 60 years of guiding and overseeing the growth of what is now called the “mothership” of synagogues in the area. This is possibly
the longest tenure in the country of any rabbi at a single pulpit.
In 1952 Halpern founded the modern Orthodox congregation before there was a neighborhood to call home. At age 23 the newly-minted rabbi began holding services in storefronts on Mill Avenue and later on Avenue N.
Halpern was graduated from Yeshiva College in 1949 and received his rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University in 1952. In 1982 Halpern was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree recognizing his successful building, spiritually and physically, of both the synagogue and the community.
Halpern served as the Jewish Chaplain in the 71st Infantry, 42nd Rainbow Division of what is now Fort Drum, a northern New York National Guard unit, for two weeks every summer for six years, beginning in 1956.
In the early years, the congregants, many who were World War II veterans from Orthodox Jewish backgrounds, were drawn to the neighborhood as affordable homes, about $10,000 each, with a 2 percent interest rate began springing up. Fillmore Gardens was the first neighborhood, recalls Halpern, and then the area flourished with the migration of Jews from East New York and Brownsville to Mill Basin, Bergen Beach and the Kings
Plaza area in the 1950s and 60s allowing the area to grow into the observant Jewish community it is today. There are currently 10 Orthodox synagogues in the greater Mill Basin area.
At his retirement dinner, Halpern recalled the beginning of the congregation.
“Those were years of striving together, a congregation, small as it was, in the first few years, praying and children learning in a rented store; yet having the power and vision to look to the future with confidence and courage
and to name our venture: Flatbush Park Jewish Center.”
“They knew the journey would be fraught with obstacles,” Halpern continued. “Yet, they would not be derailed or deterred. They continued and we persevered. Every family pitched in as much as they could” whether as a volunteer or as a financial contributor who could afford to invest as much as $200,000.
A joint legislative resolution passed in each house of the state legislature was presented to Halpern and his wife, Sheila, before the dinner. One of the sponsors of the resolution was Assemblyman Alan Maisel, who read
portions of the resolution aloud:
“Sheila Halpern has been devoted to the congregation of the Flatbush Park Jewish Center. For more than 50 years she has been there for the congregants on sad as well as joyous occasions. She has joined with Rabbi Halpern on his visits to the ill and bereaved. Moreover, Sheila Halpern has been a woman of valor and an inspiring role model for all.”
Another section Maisel read: “Rabbi Dr. David S. Halpern and his wife, Sheila, have been an inspiration to so many in the immediate Jewish community and well beyond the boundaries of the borough of Brooklyn as a teacher, builder, mentor, leader, advisor, friend, visionary, blessing, interpreter, helper and a beacon of light,” Maisel concluded.
This resolution was also sponsored in the state Senate by Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson and Martin Golden. Neither of them attended. Former Assemblyman Frank Seddio, presented a proclamation on behalf of City Councilman Lew Fidler, who did not attend the event.
The Halpern’s have three children and several grandchildren.
“My general plan is to continue my life here among the people I know and respect,” Halpern concluded. “I also plan to allot more time to personal Torah study. Since progress is never finished and there is always work to be done, my specific plan is to be as much help to our soon-to-become rabbi of Flatbush Park Jewish Center, Rabbi Yisroel Perelson, as he, we, will meet the challenges of the years to come.”