TEMPLE ISRAEL 100 YEARS | THE DIVINE LIGHT | TEMPLE ISRAEL OF FAR ROCKAWAY
THE TEMPLE CENTRE | TEMPLE ISRAEL OF LAWRENCE | THE RENOWN OF OUR MUSIC
EXPANSION OF THE TEMPLE | RABBI ZION: THE LEGEND | THE RECESSION | THE MAY MUSEUM TEMPLE ISRAEL’S 80TH ANNIVERSARY | THE NINETEEN-NINETIES
THE NEW MILLENNIUM: RABBI ROSENBAUM’S RETURN | THE LEGACY OF TIME
A Light Unto the People
Long ago one of the Hebrew prophets said: “They who walk in darkness shall see a great light.” One hundred years ago a small group of dedicated individuals saw a great light. Now with the onset of our one-hundredth anniversary, it remains for us to live so this light shall never be diminished.
THE DIVINE LIGHT
Yes, one hundred years ago on the fifteenth of May in 1908, eleven Jewish men met to establish a permanent house of worship. Since the 1880s, German Jewish vacationers had begun spending summers in the seaside villages of the Rockaway Peninsula, and were accustomed to holding informal services in a room over the dry-goods store of A. Louis Nebenzahl.
In 1908 they saw the need for a permanent institution. At their first meeting they elected Ferdinand Solomon, President. Samuel Kubie, Chairman of Membership, formulated their aims in the following words to the community:
It is our purpose to give opportunity to all the children who
desire to become acquainted with the Bible, to attend and hear it
read and taught in a modern way so that they will understand and be
The services at the Temple will be of a liberal form, maintaining sufficient of the Hebrew form and ritual to realize that this is a Hebrew service and introducing English in the major part so that you and your children may with understanding join therein.
No doubt many of you have at times been mortified by having your
children ask you questions pertaining to their origin and religion, which
owing to circumstances you could not truthfully answer.
We, therefore, ask you to help us aid you. We need your assistance
personally and monetarily. Contribute to the Temple and become members.
Even if you do not feel justified in contributing, we still prefer you become a member.
Membership dues are $25 a year entitling you to two seats.
Committee on Membership
TEMPLE ISRAEL OF FAR ROCKAWAY
Thus began Temple Israel of Far Rockaway, the original name. Their first “Sefer Torah” was the gift of Mr. Heineman, who is memorialized in one of the stained glass windows of the present temple.
Naturally, it became the ambition of the new, little congregation to raise enough money to build a home of its own. In the fall of 1908, a plot was purchased at Roanoke and State Streets in Far Rockaway, and on July 4, 1909, the first cornerstone was laid. However funds were lacking to proceed further, and the next two years were occupied in getting estimates and raising money. Meanwhile, in the fall of 1909, the High Holiday services were held at Imperial Hall, and conducted by Rev. Israel Mattuck and Cantor Russotto.
In 1910, Mr. Joseph Fried took over the presidency, and for eight years served as a vital force and guiding light for the growth of the temple. He was active in internal affairs, and also served as a link to the national Reform movement.
In early 1911 after plans had been trimmed and revised, the Board approved a contract of $23,435 with the builder, and in July the new temple was dedicated.
The recommendations voted by the Ritual Committee were highly interesting:
- Torah shall always be read in Hebrew and may be repeated in English after if is removed from the altar.
- Torah shall be read in a cycle of seven years.
- None shall be called to the Torah except on Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur or a Bar Mitzvah.
- The rabbi and cantor shall wear a gown and cap and may wear talis at all religious services.
- All Hebrews attending religious services in Temple Israel of Far Rockaway shall be privileged to keep their hats on or off, but no one presiding shall be bareheaded at any religious service.
In those early years, the Ladies Auxiliary proved to be a powerful right arm to the Temple. Within the first three months it raised $15,000 for the Building Fund. It ran a Purim Ball and started a Children’s Haven for the care of children whose mothers required hospital attention. It prepared suppers before the annual congregational meetings, and had a sewing circle and a Social Service School.
The Religious School started in October 1908 with twenty-eight pupils. When the season closed in April 1909 the enrollment had increased to eighty. Herman Frankfort was the first chairman of the Religious School Committee, and Benjamin Veit of the NYC school system served in an advisory capacity. By June 1914 the school enrollment had reached 191 children, served by nine teachers, seven of whom were volunteers. The congregation had 224 members.
In conjunction with gaining a new home, the congregation lost its rabbi. Dr. Mattuck accepted a call from London and later became chairman of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. His successor, Rabbi Ephraim Frisch was elected in 1912, and resigned in 1915.
Rabbi David Fichman succeeded Rabbi Frisch, but did not stay very long. Early in 1917 Rabbi Isaac Landman became engaged on a temporary basis; however, he made such a favorable impression that he was elected as rabbi in July 1917. During his years of service, the Religious School became acknowledged as one of the finest in the United States. He added two years after confirmation, making a complete high school course. Rabbi Landman inaugurated a Bible School for adults with a five-year course, and a Religious School with a four-year course to enable parents to keep pace with their children in the high school. Throughout the years of his tenure, the minutes reflect not only the high regard the congregation held for Rabbi Landman, but his excellent reputation throughout the religious and scholastic world.
The successful progress of Temple Israel was due to strong leadership from the pulpit and laymen under the guidance of Joseph Fried. After eight years of service he expressed the desire to retire from the presidency and was elected Honorary President. In 1918 Samuel Kubie became his successor.
The inadequacy of the Temple’s facilities became one of the chief topics at board meetings. The 264 children registered in the Religious School were obliged to use the choir-loft and the Rabbi’s study as classrooms. Early in 1919 the Temple inaugurated a branch of the Sunday school in Woodmere with thirty-five in attendance at the home of I. S. Wolf. There were many suggestions: to buy land and build, to take over a building known as the Far Rockaway Club, etc.
THE TEMPLE CENTRE
The congregation authorized the Board to purchase property as in their judgment would be adaptable for providing facilities for the ever increasing demand for religious instruction, and at the same time give facilities for a Temple and a Community Centre.
After an extensive search, the Board announced the successful purchase of the property known as the Lawrence Academy, comprised of a building and two and one- half acres. When constructed, it would provide twelve airy rooms along with a special large room for the rabbi and superintendent to receive parents and friends, and also serve as a classroom for confirmands and post-confirmands. Known as the “Temple Centre,” old and young could meet to carry on social activities, and plans were made for concerts, lectures, motion pictures, dancing classes and other features.
The Temple Centre Dedication took place on March 13, 1920. The purchase and reconstruction of the school cost $85,000. The land next to the school provided a spacious site for future growth, and is where Temple Israel presently stands.
In the fall of 1921, High Holiday services were held in two places: the original Temple in Far Rockaway and the new Temple Centre in Lawrence. The acquisition of the center proved to be a powerful stimulus to congregational activity. 375 families were members, and 408 children attended the Religious School. Services were held on Friday evenings, Saturday and Sunday mornings.
However, opposition arose because part of the congregation still met in Far Rockaway. Mention was made of selling the original building and merging with the Jewish Community Center of Cedarhurst, as well as building a new facility with an auditorium, swimming pool and gymnasium. A Committee on Plan & Scope had authorization to consider how to build and finance a new temple on the Lawrence property.
In 1926, Samuel Kubie resigned as president, and Benjamin Veit, the School Superintendent, was elected president.
The idea of a new temple building was growing. George Seidman was elected treasurer after his success in soliciting contributions. An offer from a new Orthodox group, Talmud Torah Knesset Israel, spurred the Board to take action. Despite the fact that details for the new building had not yet been worked out, in 1929 the majority voted to sell the old temple for $35,000 with the provision that the premises would be used as a House of Worship.
In 1928, Rabbi Landman submitted his resignation, explaining he had been asked to edit a Jewish Encyclopedia, giving him a broader scope of service.
The new building moved forward slowly and more money had to be raised. Benjamin Titman did a yeoman’s job. There was a professional solicitor and a number of mailings underwritten by Mr. Titman. The plans of the first architect, Josef Urban, drew criticism and dissatisfaction, and a settlement had to be made with him. New plans by another architect, S. Brian Baylinson, were submitted and approved; these are embodied in the temple today.
The depression of 1930 caused the plans to be pared down to a minimum, and without provision for an auditorium. However, Mr. Titman announced he would increase his contribution from $5,000 to $20,000 provided the entire amount would be used for an auditorium on the lower floor, which is the present Titman Auditorium.
TEMPLE ISRAEL OF LAWRENCE
All the years of planning and discussion with discouragement and heartbreak came to their emotion-filled climax on February 13-15, 1931, with the dedication of Temple Israel of Lawrence.
On Friday evening, ceremonies opened with an organ prelude on a magnificent instrument presented by Mr .& Mrs. William Fox. Rabbi William B. Schwartz, who had succeeded Rabbi Landman, conducted the services. Speakers for Saturday and Sunday included Rabbi Louis Newman, Stephen Wise, Nathan Krass and principal speaker, Herbert Lehman, then Lt. Governor of NY.
On June 22, 1931 the temple’s corporate name became officially changed to Temple Israel of Lawrence. The persistent efforts of these dedicated men had finally come to fruition in this magnificent building, which was a source of pride, not only to its members but to the entire community. Who could have foreseen the depression years of the thirties? The trustees struggled with their problems: “We’re operating at a loss. How can we get more members? Shall we sell seats?”
Mr. Veit was president of the temple for seven years after which he went back to his first love, the Religious School where he became acting superintendent. He recommended the employment of a principal, and in the fall of 1935, Max Gewirtz was appointed to that position, which he occupied with great distinction for many years.
In 1933, Francis Gilbert assumed the presidency, and was succeeded by Nathan Helfat in 1934. In 1936, Mr. Gilbert took the office again and held it for two years, followed by Mortimer Hays in 1938, who served until 1941.
The musical part of the service had been reduced to a minimum, but at the urging of Mrs. Carl Lang, Cantor Harvin Lohre was added. Speakers were invited, social hours took place after services, and Sunday lectures were instituted. Nevertheless, in the late thirties and early forties, the Temple experienced dark days. The Religious School enrollment had fallen to a low of 288 compared to 500 previously, and the membership shrank to under 400.
David Goodkind succeeded H.M. Stein, President since 1941. The war curtailed some of the temple activities. Rabbi Schwartz became a chaplain in the army and guest rabbis were invited to occupy the pulpit.
After the war, the fortunes of the temple began to improve. Membership was over the 500 mark, and 428 children attended Religious School. There was a “Burning the Mortgage” ceremony under the direction of Jacob Horwitz.
Rabbi Judah Cahn, one of the guest rabbis, was appointed full-time substitute for Rabbi Schwartz until his return. At the 38th annual meeting in June 1946, President Goodkind announced Rabbi Schwartz’s resignation, in order to devote himself to rehabilitating the Jews of Europe.
Rabbi Cahn, as regular rabbi, began a series of changes in temple activities. Of prime importance, Isadore Freed became appointed Music Director. A house in Cedarhurst had been purchased to be used as the rabbi’s residence. It was voted to discontinue the long-standing practice of passing the basket on Friday evenings. Rabbi Cahn instituted the practice of visiting several larger college centers to meet with children of the temple family.
For the fortieth anniversary, a group of renowned speakers was invited, among them Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and Walter White, Exec. Secy. of the N.A.A.C.P. In these years the temple had accumulated a building fund of $78,000 thanks to President Goodkind. After five years he turned the presidency back to Mr. Stein. The need for additional space pressed on, and plans were made to create a school center to serve the needs of an expanding Religious School. In the fall of 1950 a new addition was dedicated and put into use.
In early 1951, a serious schism developed in the congregation. At the forty-third annual meeting, two slates of candidates were presented: one sponsored by the nominating committee consisting of incumbent officers and another one nominated by congregants- at- large. As a result, the latter slate was elected with Elias Weinstock as president and Millard Cohen, as first vice president.
On July 29, 1952 the sudden passing of Mr. Weinstock shocked and saddened the congregation. In the short time he had been president, he created a glowing spirit of warmth and unity. Millard Cohen took over the presidency and served continuously for twenty years. He proved to be a true leader and manifested the rare qualities of patience, fortitude, and quiet confidence, which made others look to him for guidance.
THE RENOWN OF OUR MUSIC
The reputation of Temple Israel grew nationally during the fifties. We sent delegates to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, our Religious School became one of the first to receive accreditation, but most of all we achieved national renown as a result of our music.
Under the guidance of Dr. Isidore Freed, our music took on a new dimension. At Friday evening and High Holiday services, the music did not merely supplement the prayers, it set the mood for worship and intensified the religious experience. Appreciation came from all over the United States for the patterns he had set up, which many other congregations eagerly followed. Almost a hundred works including operas, choral music, and instrumental works flowed from his talented hands. Unlike other prodigies who leave their work to explore more lucrative fields, Dr. Freed remained faithful to the roots and sources of the Jewish people. His untimely passing in November 1960 was a loss deeply felt in music circles worldwide.
In 1953, Cantor Lohre, who had joined the Temple in 1936, informed the Board of his ill health and a desire to retire. A special committee listened to a number of candidates for the position and finally chose David Benedict, a member of our own choir, who became a valued associate of the temple family.
In 1961, David Benedict was appointed to the then vacant post of music director. He ably followed in Dr. Freed’s footsteps. His first major accomplishment was the initiation of an annual Spring Concert – the first one honoring Dr. Freed. Throughout the year he produced a series of spring, fall, and winter Music Festivals. He developed and molded a choir, which was second to none nationwide and initiated novel instrumental and dance concerts. He had a wonderful rapport with the students of our temple, and his operalogues and lectures for adult education were eagerly awaited. He composed complete Sabbath services and adaptations of biblical passages. His recording of a Temple Israel service was heard around the world.
EXPANSION OF THE TEMPLE
Facilities for indoor and outdoor athletics were donated by S. Emil Holland. Through the generosity of Jack Melnick and Al Held, the temple auditorium became a beautifully decorated and air conditioned room. Land in the back of the temple became equipped as a playground.
A series of bazaars in the fifties became one of the greatest forces in developing a spirit of camaraderie. Not only did they raise funds, but they brought together many members, eager to serve the temple.
In the fall of 1955, the Board decided to have two services: an early one and a later one for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur evenings. Membership had grown to almost 1000 families and there were 1050 children in the Religious School. To temporarily solve this problem, several of the upper classes were transferred to Saturday mornings. In order to utilize our space even more efficiently, a nursery school was established with Mrs. Naomi Joseph as its first director. This filled an urgent need for our congregation and community.
Rabbi Cahn, who had served since 1946, submitted his resignation but continued to serve through June 1959.
RABBI ZION: THE LEGEND
The appointed committee diligently searched for a new rabbi, interviewing many candidates. A special meeting of the congregation held on February 5, 1959 ratified the election of Joel Y. Zion as rabbi. In order to introduce Rabbi and Mrs. Zion to the congregation, the Board invited members to a series of informal dinners under the supervision of Bernard Bregstein. With over 2000 persons in attendance, these dinners were a huge success.
On October 23 1959, the Installation Ceremony of Rabbi Zion was particularly impressive. The installing officer, Dr. Maurice Eisendrath, President of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, expressed confidence Temple Israel would achieve great importance in the Reform movement.
This growth in importance stems to a great extent from the high regard many Jewish leaders held for President Millard Cohen, an active member of the NY Federation of Reform Synagogues and Executive Committee of the UAHC. Temple Israel celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by honoring Mr. Cohen at its Journal Dinner Dance at the Lido Beach Hotel. Bernard Bregstein and Leo Kerpen were the journal chairmen.
The Men’s Club or Brotherhood of Temple Israel proved to be a very important part of the temple family. Through the years it sponsored many entertaining and educational programs. Two of its leaders won national recognition: Seymour Liebowitz, as President of the National Federation of Temple Brotherhoods, and Mitchel Meyersohn for his work with the Jewish Chatauqua Society. Some of the brotherhood presidents were Dr. Joe Rudnick, David Rugoff, Phil Parker, Bill Kracke, Bernie Lichter, Bill Farber, Lester Levy, Burt Kahn, Herman Levine, Joe Frier, Ben Segan, Arnie Malakoff, John Malino, and Les Martin.
The Sisterhood continued the wonderful work of the Ladies Auxiliary. During these years, sisterhood gifts included new Torah covers, refurbishing the interior of the ark, cushions for the sanctuary, and equipment for the Titman kitchen. In 1960, a sisterhood Judaica shop opened in the foyer of the temple. Mrs. Samuel May, the President of the Sisterhood, achieved national renown for her leadership of the organization. Other sisterhood presidents included Sophie Kass, Elayne Haves, Evelyn Rosenthal, Elaine Pokart, Barbara Slavin, and Ellie Krigsman.
In 1959, a College Committee was formed with Harris Levin and Isabel May as chairpersons. That year Rabbi and Mrs. Zion held a huge Chanukah reception for college students in their home.
The Board approved the establishment of a Social Action Committee and Seymour Liebowitz served as the first chairman and Al Vorspan was its first guest speaker. There was a Mr. & Mrs. Club, a P.T.A., a Senior and Junior League as well as a Youth Group. The Youth Group directors included Bruce Goldman, David Finkle and Seymour Madanick.
During the holidays in 1960, Rabbi and Mrs. Zion hosted an open house for the congregation at their home. Within the same year, the organist and choir director, Lawrence Rasmussen, left and was followed by Robert McDermott.
In 1962, a new Bride’s Room was created adjacent to the sanctuary and offices. Mrs. Caryl Meyers was appointed to the staff, and her experience in the field of catering became available for consultation on life-cycle events. Sir Zarfullah Khan, President of the United Nations, addressed the congregation. Other guest speakers included George Mc Govern, who later became the Democratic presidential candidate, Pastor Martin Niemuller, a German anti-Nazi theologian, and Maurice Samuel.
Again, talk of improving the temple and providing more space for the Religious School continued. In1963, a kick-off dinner for the campaign for a new Religious School took place. Irwin Schnurmacher, chairman of its fundraising committee, had a goal of $500,000. Emil Holland, chairperson of the building committee, was assisted by Jerry Friedman, Al Held and others.
In 1964, plans were augmented to include air-conditioning for the temple sanctuary, a new auditorium for the Religious School, and social facilities. The congregation voted for the much needed catering and banquet facilities to be utilized for secondary services for the holidays with a total cost of $900,000. In addition, the Board approved buying a house on Fulton Street, adjacent to the temple, for future expansion. The Board also established a building fund obligation for new members.
On March 21, 1965 there were ground-breaking ceremonies for the new building. By the end of the year, $730,000 had been raised. J. Horowitz and J. Melnick were instrumental in arranging a mortgage. In September1965 there were 1140 families who were members of Temple Israel.
Meanwhile, the Religious School was growing by leaps and bounds. Max Gewirtz, its principal, was honored in 1965 for his thirty years in that position. He was a truly remarkable individual. He was a great friend of the students, but ruled the school with an iron fist and was respected by students, parents and teachers. His portrayal of Hamen in the annual Purim Spiel was a highlight of each year. At this time, of the 1000 children enrolled in the religious school, ninety-five were Bar Mitzvah, seventy-five confirmands, and sixty-four were completing our Hebrew High School course of study.
In 1967, the new Lawrence and Audrey Reed Religious School began with an open house in October and a formal dedication service led by Rabbi Jacob Rudin in November. There was also a dinner dance and a children’s dedication. Cantor Benedict composed “Trial of Job” for the occasion and members were seated in the new facilities for the High Holidays. Justin Simon, chairman of the Banquet Committee, was overwhelmed with bookings for the new ballrooms.
1968 witnessed the creation of a new chapel with stained glass windows created by the artist Nissen Engel, as well as the renovation of the Kiddush Room. The gymnasium was refurbished into a school auditorium suitable for assemblies.
In 1969 there was a celebration honoring Rabbi Zion on his tenth anniversary as spiritual leader of Temple Israel. Title was taken to property at the foot of Winchester Place. Marcia Firestone became head of the nine year old Nursery School, which had grown to seventy children.
In 1970 Morton Haves introduced a Saturday morning Torah Study Group, which would relate the Torah portion of the week to contemporary society. In that year Shirley Chisholm spoke at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service.
In 1971, Mel Cohen resigned as president after almost twenty years. The temple held a dinner and Sabbath Service in his honor. He was elected honorary president, and Herbert Levy was elected president. The ballroom was no longer used for the holidays; instead, there were two evening sessions and one morning session with overflow to the Titman Auditorium. Rabbi Zion was granted an honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR and life tenure until the age of sixty-five. Mel Senville donated a sculpture by Temima Gezari, which now stands in the temple lobby.
Shortly thereafter in 1972, the Board authorized Temple Israel to introduce the practice of Bat Mitzvah, where requested, in accordance with the established standard for Bar Mitzvah. In March of 1972, Rabbi Jack Bemporad was our scholar in residence. A series of lectures by John Stoessinger, Director of the Political Affairs Division of the United Nations concluded the Adult Education program with a splendid turnout.
In 1973, Seymour Liebowitz was elected president replacing Herbert Levy. A five-year club was established with one hundred members pledging $1000 a year for five years to pay off the mortgage. Dr. Alvin Baron, Religious School chair, made many innovations including parallel school, Passover candy sale, open school night, holiday and festival celebrations, and more.
In 1974 Rabbi Zion took sabbatical leave for six months, where he spent major time in Israel doing volunteer work with social agencies in the field of mental health. Rabbi David Seligson of Central Synagogue served as interim Rabbi. Al Schattner, Chairman of the Catering Committee, began interviewing caterers with the possibility of naming one exclusive caterer. Paule Golomb was the Temple’s student rabbi.
In 1975, Marvin Slomack became the new president. After much interviewing, the Catering Committee drew up a contract with Stuart Somerstein as its exclusive caterer. The temple retained the Titman Auditorium for temple activities with the caterer being able to use it when no temple function had been planned. A local Alcoholics Anonymous group was given permission to meet at the temple. Stuart Pollack was the new student rabbi.
These were difficult years – years of struggle against inflation, recession, and escalating costs. Solutions to these problems required head-on work, but solutions were found without curtailing our programs and services to the congregation and community.
Marvin Slomack passed away on January 9, 1976 and Isabel May was elected as the new president. Marcia Firestone, the Nursery School Director, proposed the establishment of a Temple Israel Summer Day Camp for nursery school children, which was passed. There was a B’Not Mitzvah service for fourteen women who had not been Bat Mitzvah when they were children. The Pulpit Committee under Burt Kahn held a series of meetings to evaluate a new prayer book, Gates of Prayer, and the temple decided to adopt this book.
In 1977, the Board authorized a search for an assistant rabbi with responsibilities which included school and youth programs, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, pastoral duties, adult education, visiting families, and hands-on help with the religious and nursery schools. Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum was welcomed to fill this post. He demonstrated a strong feeling for Judaism, a desire to emphasize the holidays, a keenness for Zionism, and an emphasis on the teachings of the Torah.
Isabel May retired to Florida and Dr. William Groisser was elected president. Cantor Benedict celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary with Temple Israel in 1978 with a concert followed by a reception. Also in that year, the Board voted funds for a youth lounge. Richard Chizner became the youth chairman. The Adult Education Committee, under the chairmanship of Ben Segan sponsored “Luncheons with the Rabbis” – a new program to discuss current events.
1979 celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Rabbi Zion with a special dinner and service. During the year he had been busy visiting college students, writing Campuscope, and continuing the traditional Thanksgiving Service with our Christian neighbors. Rabbi Zion was highly revered and appreciated by his congregants.
Many children of Reform congregations, including our own, enjoyed summers of fun and learning at two summer camps created by Rabbi Zion: the Shwayder Camp in Colorado and the Harlem Camp in Pennsylvania.
THE MAY MUSEUM
In 1980, the Board authorized $5,000 for a museum. Gerald Meisel was appointed Director of Education, Dr. Alvin Baron was elected president, and Rabbi Rosenbaum left us to accept a new position with a congregation in the New York area. David Weis was hired as student rabbi. The Board also authorized the establishment of an all-day kindergarten supervised by Marcia Firestone. There were 280 children in the Nursery School and ninety in the Day Camp.
In 1982, the temple obtained a Holocaust Scroll from the Westminster Synagogue in London. There was refurbishing of the Titman Auditorium with $10,000 from the Sisterhood and $10,000 from the Brotherhood. The Temple purchased the property at 119 Fulton Street from Elias Rosenzweig who moved to Florida. Bob Levy was given the task of finding a use for the property.
An announcement in 1983 stated that the Sisterhood would develop and staff the museum. Temple Israel celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary. Allen Darnov was hired as student rabbi, and it was voted to have separate High Holiday services for our children.
On September 13, 1983, Mel Cohen passed away. He had been concerned about every aspect of temple life: its financial position, its appearance, its membership, and special occasions, and for over two decades he occupied the president’s chair. The Board voted to commence a Berniece and Mel Cohen Endowment Fund for the renovation, preservation, and maintenance of the temple building.
In 1984, an Outreach Committee formed as a support group to interfaith couples. The dinner dance honored Cookie Steinberger. Richard Chizner was elected president.
In 1985, as a tribute to Dr. Freed on the eighty-fifth anniversary of his birth and the twenty-fifth of his death, a music festival was held with an original composition by David Benedict. Jacob Horwitz was designated as Honorary Vice-President. The dinner dance honored Isabel May.
In 1986, the honorable Abba Eban and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Elie Wiesel spoke as part of a joint venture by Temple Israel and Temple Hillel sponsored by our Adult Education Committee under the leadership of Irene Martin. Each lecture was preceded by a cocktail reception. The dedication and opening of the May Museum took place on April 18. It would house art and artifacts on loan as well as permanent collections and changing exhibits. Fredda Harris and Bea Franklin were co-chairs. The opening exhibit displayed the work of internationally renowned photographer, Arthur Liepzig. Later on in the year, the museum hosted an exhibit of sculpture by the noted Jewish artist Temima Gezari. Harriet Zion became the art consultant to the museum.
Rabbi Zion retired, and was elected Rabbi Emeritus. The unique qualities that he brought to Temple Israel would be hard to duplicate. The spirituality, the knowledge of current events, and the exceptional way he conducted his pastoral duties were things so many temple members had come to appreciate.
In 1987, Richard Chizner retired as president. He had been especially devoted to Jewish education and family life. Dan Harwood was elected as the next president. A new contract with the caterer, Stuart Somerstein, enabled us to have a long-term beneficial relationship. Cantor Benedict was granted Emeritus status upon his retirement.
TEMPLE ISRAEL’S 80th ANNIVERSARY
In 1988, the families of Arnold and Jeff Steinberg made a gift to the Temple Day Camp of an in-ground children’s swimming pool. Barbara Goldstein left the office after thirty-four years of service, and became an honorary Temple member. Student Rabbi Darnov moved to a new congregation. During his five-years of service to Temple Israel, he demonstrated a strong feeling for Judaism and the teachings of Torah. The Rabbinic Search Committee, chaired by Richard Chizner, presented Rabbi Jack Bemporad as its nominee, and after a brief interview he was unanimously accepted by the congregation. Janice Poticha was the student rabbi.
This year also marked the beginning of the Temple’s 80th anniversary year. Among the most outstanding events was the appearance of the president of the UAHC, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, as guest speaker. He was honored at a dinner and gala Oneg Shabbat with an attendance of over 400.
In the spring of 1989, The Cantorial Search Committee, chaired by Burt Kahn and Richard Chizner, offered the position to Cantor Howard Stahl of Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany. He was a former President of the American Conference of Cantors, and was well-known as an educator and youth director. He was elected by the congregation.
Harriet Zion and Fredda Harris opened the May Museum with an exhibit entitled, “80th Anniversary Retrospective.” There were many events for our anniversary celebration including special services and a gala musical presentation. Bill Groisser did a remarkable job as chairman of the temple’s Eightieth Anniversary Committee.
In 1989, Dan Harwood retired and Elaine Pokart became president. In September, Rabbi Roland was the main speaker at Rabbi Bemporad’s installation. Cantor Howard Stahl was installed in the fall as well.
The dinner dance of 1990 honored Bill and Lenore Groisser. Rabbi Wittstein was appointed assistant rabbi and was responsible for the youth program and the Religious School.
1990 and 1991 were successful years for the temple thanks to the accomplishments of President Elaine Pokart who successfully implemented important programs and events that were handled by very competent committees. A five-year renewable plan for the maintenance of the building was drawn up. The honorees at the dinner dance were Richard and Judy Chizner. Dr. Alvin Baron was elected as the new president and past-president Elaine Pokart was honored at a special service. Honorary Vice President Jack Horwitz was also honored on his one hundredth birthday. The restoration of the Holocaust Torah was contracted for and Richard Berman chaired this task, which was known as “the Torah Scribe” program. The restoration of the Holocaust Torah cost $8,000, and the actual work was done in the temple by a professional. In December, it was dedicated in a service known as “Wedding of the Torah.” An important event was an address to the congregation by Camelia Sadat, wife of Anwar Sadat.
In 1992, Glynis Conyer, a student rabbi, was appointed youth director. The pipe organ was declared unrepairable, and David Land took the responsibility of negotiating for a new one. Gerald Meisel was the Director of Education. The honorees at the dinner dance were Phyllis and John Malino. For the High Holidays, there were two Rosh Hashanah services in the morning followed by a reception for the congregation and two Yom Kipper evening services. During the High Holidays Rabbi Zion introduced a puppet show for the children’s services. There were 180 children in the day camp, 307 in the nursery school, and thirteen in the kindergarten.
In 1993, Rabbi Bemporad announced he would be leaving. His deep involvement in interfaith activity made him one of the most influential Jewish personalities in Catholic-Jewish relations. He resigned to accept the position of Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University. He brought his warmth, great scholarship and superb intellect to Temple Israel. Richard Berman and Burt Kahn were appointed to chair a new rabbinic search committee. Rabbi Brooks Sussman was offered the position and elected by the congregation. He hosted a series of “Meet Your Rabbi” evenings in his home and his installation took place at a special service in October.
For the High Holidays, a new Schantz organ was installed. Pledges by the Koslow and Steinberg families helped to finance this addition. A gala music festival was held, once again, with the music of Freed and also Bloch. Jon Gillock, the organist, requested and was granted a leave of absence. Matthew Lewis, an extremely talented musician, became the temple’s organist, and is currently the musical director for the temple. Dr. Alvin Baron was elected as the new president, the dinner dance honored Morty and Elayne Haves, a new computer was installed in the main office and the offices of the Rabbi and Cantor were refurbished. Roger Werner presented a revision of the by-laws.
In 1994, Jeffery Scherr was elected president, Dr. Gerald Meisel was director of education, and Glynis Conyer was the student rabbi. A combined Temple Israel Brotherhood and Sisterhood (TIBS) emerged to replace both organizations. Its first co-presidents were Irene Martin and Arnold Krigsman. The dinner dance honored Stuart and Marika Somerstein. Cathy Aks celebrated her twentieth year as the soprano in the Temple Choir.
Adult Education was exceptionally strong in 1995 with lectures by Rabbis Sussman and Zion and Cantor Stahl. The Temple 2000 campaign was inaugurated to raise funds for repairs to the building. $362,000 was pledged by congregants under the leadership of Joel Gerstel and Leslie Chalson. The first phase of the building renovations was started: windows, roof, masonry, air conditioning and heating. Manny and Elaine Pokart were the honorees at the dinner dance.
In 1996 the dinner dance honored Janet and Bill Henry. The Temple 2000 campaign continued and by the end of the year, $493,000 had been raised. Rabbi Zion became an honorary member of the CCAR on the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination.
In 1997, Stephen and Linda Sklar were the honorees at the temple’s annual Journal Dinner Dance. There was a Purim carnival. In June, David Land was elected president. Dr. Meisel resigned for a new position on the north shore and David Wolfe was appointed acting Director of Education. HALB leased several classrooms and student Rabbi Richard Prass was hired.
In March of 1998, the new High Holiday prayer book, Gates of Repentance, was accepted by a congregational vote. Israel Independence Day was celebrated on the front lawn of the temple with music, crafts, and family attendance. Matthew Lewis and the Temple Choir celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the temple’s Music Festival. Grace and David Land were the honorees at the annual dinner dance.
In 1999, Cantor Stahl asked to be released from his contract. He had been offered a position in Short Hills, NJ. Rabbi Gunther Plaut was the temple’s scholar in residence. The dinner dance honored twenty-five years in the rabbinate for Brooks Sussman, twenty-seven years in the cantorate for Howard Stahl, and fifty years in the rabbinate for Joel Zion.
The plans for the Temple 2000 Campaign continued. Alan Hartstein was elected President. Oreen Zeitlin became the new Cantor. The Laster Speaker Fund was established.
THE NEW MILLENNIUM: RABBI ROSENBAUM’S RETURN
In 2000, Rabbi Sussman tendered his resignation. In July, after the Rabbinical Search Committee had failed to find a permanent replacement, the Board met and contracted with Rabbi Allen Kaplan to serve as temple’s interim rabbi for one year. He was a pulpit rabbi, a chaplain in the air force, and active in the UAHC.
Also, in that year, Rabbi Bernard Zlotowitz was the guest speaker sponsored by the Laster Fund. The honorees at the dinner dance were Gwen and Jeff Scherr. Several women in the congregation were B’not Mitzvah. Temple Thursday educational programming continued with the new clergy.
2001 introduced a new computer room with internet access as part of Temple’s Israel’s religious educational program. Aaron Philipson contributed much of this in memory of his late wife, Sherry. Joel Gerstel was elected President in June, 2001. Karen Landesman was chosen as director of childhood education. Dr. Robert Lehman was chosen to fill the post of interim rabbi when Rabbi Kaplan left. He and Rabbi Joel Zion shared the responsibility of temple leadership.
2002 was a momentous and fulfilling year in the temple’s history. The rabbinic search committee headed by Joel Gerstel and Cheryl Gralnick brought us Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum. The cantorial search committee headed by Les Martin brought us Cantor Galina Paliy. They were elected at a congregational meeting on April 24. In addition, the search for a director of the Religious School chaired by Jeff Scherr ended with the appointment of Mordchai Mahfouda.
Rabbi Rosenbaum had truly come home. He had been assistant rabbi here twenty-five years before and had left to lead his own congregations. We re-welcomed him and his wife, Amy. As a family, they had created their own spiritual connection to Temple Israel: their son Jordan had his bris, Bar Mitzvah and wedding at Temple Israel. As Rabbi Rosenbaum said, “Temple Israel is a sanctuary where all are welcome with the warm feelings of togetherness and faith.” He is secretary-general of the North American Board of Rabbis, and continues to excel as our spiritual leader.
Cantor Galina Paliy had recently graduated and been invested as cantor in the Hebrew Union College-School of Sacred Music. Her warm smile and beautiful voice has been admired by all. She, too, continues to lead us in joyful song as she conducts an admirable music program.
Mr. Mahfouda has enriched the temple’s educational program. He is admired by both the congregation and his students who have deep respect for all of his accomplishments.
In 2002, former Governor Mario Cuomo addressed the congregation. In November, Rabbi Rosenbaum and Cantor Paliy were installed by Rabbi Zion. Guest speakers included Senator Charles Schumer and Reverend Victor Hall of the Calvary Baptist Church.
One of Rabbi Rosenbaum’s first innovations was providing a service on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The establishment of a Temple Israel website was notable during this year.
In 2002, the rabbi began negotiations with the German Foreign Ministry of Education to begin a student exchange program. Representatives of our community went to Germany to begin this program. It was inaugurated in 2003 and continued through 2007, thanks to Stefan Schleuter, Deputy Consul of Germany. Temple Israel hosted children from Germany who in turn hosted our children with the theme of “Getting to Know You.” Ted Friedman was honored at the dinner dance. Senator Hillary Clinton visited Temple Israel in November for a historical address to the congregation.
In 2003, Temple Israel hosted the largest coalition of Jewish organizations and synagogues in America to commemorate the life’s work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Five Towns and community leaders of the world listened to speeches on black-Jewish relations.
Also in 2003, the JCC (Jewish Community Center) took over the Nursery School of 200 children and twenty-nine toddlers. They also ran the day camp with 260 children.
In 2004, there was a dedication of a Scroll of Esther, (a megillah scroll). It had been commissioned for temple with a scribe who began his work in 2003. Members contributed $25,000 for this project.
The Jewish Community Center (JCC) was looking into facility expansion with the Temple. They wanted an option to build on the land next to the temple and also add additional classrooms. Further consideration became necessary. Penny Shuster who had great insight into the operations of the Religious School served as the chairperson. A vacancy in catering would soon be forthcoming, and bids were sent out. Joel and Deanne Gerstel were honored at the dinner dance. During the year, Rabbi Rosenbaum instituted Torah Study on Saturday mornings and the Temple Thursday Study Group, which proved to be very successful.
In 2005, a new caterer, Morrell Caterers, was signed to a long-term contract. They would take over the facility after extensive renovations thanks to the negotiations of Bill Groisser, Elaine Pokart, and Jim Rotenberg. After serving as president for four years, Joel Gerstel retired and Garrett Gray was elected president. The annual gala Journal Dinner Dance honored Les and Irene Martin. The eighty-seventh annual Joint Thanksgiving Service was held with the First Presbyterian Church of Far Rockaway. Rabbi Rosenbaum went to Italy to set up an Italian-Jewish exchange program for high school seniors.
2006 continued the German student exchange program. Dr. Tina Funt chaired the exchange committee. The Rabbi visited the Vatican, met the Pope, got heartfelt thanks for continuing the Catholic-Jewish dialogue, and continued to implement the Italian exchange program. Morrell Caterers proceeded with renovations. With the shortfall in income due to the catering facility being closed for renovations, the temple instituted a “Shomrey” (Guardian of Israel) program where further contributions were made by congregants. The Board made a decision to have the professional choir and the organist during the High Holidays, but on regular Shabbat services, to have only the cantor and organist. A volunteer adult choir was organized by Cantor Paliy. The dinner dance honored Jim and Carol Rotenberg, and because of the extensive work being done at the temple, the dance was held at the caterer’s facilities in Woodbury. The temple was extremely pleased with the number of bookings made by the new caterer. With a grant from Ben Segan, the new Youth Lounge was opened. Attorney General Elliot Spitzer spoke at the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration.
In 2007, the one hundredth Anniversary Committee chaired by Irene Martin and Deanne Gerstel began its work. Many events were planned for the fall and spring. The caterer opened a beautiful facility after extensive renovations. One of the first events was the temple’s own dinner dance honoring Barbara and Alan Hartstein. It was a most elegant affair. The Building Committee was at work putting air conditioning in the chapel and Kiddush room, paving the parking lot, repairing the roof and more. Larry Abrams and Simon Becher worked extremely hard to get this accomplished. In the June Congressional Record there was mention of the commendation of Rabbi Rosenbaum and the North American Board of Rabbis on the anniversary of the German-American Jewish youth exchange program.
THE LEGACY OF TIME
The history of Temple Israel would not be complete without further word about Rabbi Emeritus Joel Zion. He was the rabbi at Temple Israel longer than any previous member of the clergy. He was loved and admired for his pulpit sermons, his pastoral work, his college programs, his “Luncheon with the Rabbi” program, educational programs for adults, his leadership in social action projects and his exceptional fund-raising abilities. He was truly one of the master builders of Reform Judaism.
It has been said, a synagogue is a living paradox – it is changeless, and yet it is constantly changing. In the sense that it is a house of worship, a house of study, and a house of meeting, it remains the same. Yet, since it adapts itself to varying cultural and philosophic conditions, it is constantly changing.
As time went by, one President and Board passed the burden on to the next one; one rabbi passed the spiritual torch to another, and so Temple Israel struggled through the lean years and flourished through the good ones.
Those who have been entrusted with the responsibilities of this congregation are grateful for this honor and privilege. They know others will take their places to guide us through the changes the years may bring, from strength to greater strength, and with the light of the Jewish prophets illuminating their path.