Rabbi Joseph Breuer (1882 – 1980) was 57 years old when he and his family arrived in New York City from Europe. It was 1939, and the grandson of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch immediately set about rebuilding the German Jewish community in New York City.
Rabbi Breuer received his ordination in 1903 and completed a PhD at the University of Strasbourg in 1905. In 1933, as the dean of the Frankfurt yeshiva, Rabbi Breuer attempted to escape the Nazis by moving the school to Fiume, Italy, but the arrangements in Fiume lasted only one year. Shortly after, Rabbi Breuer and his students returned to Frankfurt, but the yeshiva was closed by the Nazis. On the day of Kristallnacht, Rabbi Breuer was arrested. After his release, the Breuers left Germany, and, after a short stay in Antwerp, they arrived in the United States.
In New York, Rabbi Breuer discovered that many German Jews were living in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. He quickly became their spiritual leader and, slowly, built a “Frankfurt on the Hudson.” In time, Rabbi Breuer helped the community build a mikveh (ritual pool), elementary and high schools for both boys and girls, a yeshiva and a synagogue (named K’hal Adas Jeshurun after the synagogue in Frankfurt).
Following the path set down by his grandfather, Rabbi Breuer continued to advocate for Torah im Derech Eretz (understood to mean “Torah with Modern Life”), educating his followers to live a traditional Jewish life while not isolating themselves from the world.
The synagogue maintains the German Minhag (Minhag Ashkenaz). One of the most beautiful and unique customs transported from Frankfurt to Washington Heights is the synagogue choir. To this day, the beautiful voices of the all male choir enhance and solemnize the Shabbat and holiday prayer services at the synagogue.