By Lincoln Anderson
Paul Bookson, a former state senator and judge who took a leading role in renovating the historic Eldridge St. Synagogue and preserving it as a functioning house of worship, was fatally injured on Sept. 22 after a motorcycle crashed into him as he was walking toward Brooklyn Supreme Court. An attorney with Herzfeld & Rubin law firm, he was reportedly on his way to meet with a client. Bookson died at Bellevue hospital the night afterwards. He was 71.
Bookson, who was born in New York City, lived on Park Row. He was a state senator representing the Lower East Side in the 1970s and became a Civil Court judge in 1976 and acting State Supreme Court justice in 1984 before retiring in 1995.
Known for frequently wearing a stylish hat, often white, and chewing on a cigar, Bookson was the unofficial president of the 118-year-old Eldridge St. Synagogue, at 12 Eldridge St. between Canal and Division Sts.
“I don’t know if he was the president, but he was the main guy,” said Rabbi Yisrael Stone, the synagogue’s rabbi for the last 11 months.
If there was a bulb that needed to be replaced before a service, Bookson would do it, he noted. Bookson made it his job to insure that there was always a minyan — the required minimum number of worshipers — for the Friday night shabbos service. He and his wife also always shopped for the food for the kiddush, or meal after the service, the rabbi said.
The synagogue, which is undergoing a major renovation as part of the Eldridge St. Project, is the oldest synagogue in New York that was built as synagogue. The services occur downstairs, since the upstairs is under renovation. For the last 10 years, the congregation did not have a rabbi.
Rabbi Stone said one of the last things Bookson did was to e-mail him back a flier for Rosh Hashanah at the synagogue on which he had made corrections. Bookson instructed that the flier should note the service was free of charge and that all were welcome.
In a statement, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “Judge Paul Bookson, my friend and colleague, was an icon in the Lower Manhattan community who was loved and respected. After years of public service as a state senator and a supreme court justice, he continued to serve our community as president of the Eldridge St. Synagogue, and worked tirelessly to reinvigorate this national historic landmark. Judge Bookson was an inspiration to us all.”
Bookson’s funeral was held at the synagogue last Friday. He is survived by a wife and three daughters, sons-in-law, many grandchildren and a brother.