Today is April 29, 2017 -
The History of the Huntington Jewish Center
Written in 2007, on the occasion of our Centennial
At the time President Theodore Roosevelt came to Huntington in 1903 to participate in the Town’s two hundred fiftieth anniversary celebration, there were very few Jewish families living in the town. The area was still largely rural with a viable commercial center in “the Village” and a growing community at “the Station,” linked by an electric trolley line that ran along New York Avenue.
Through most of the nineteenth century, much of Huntington’s development was based on a maritime economy, with steamboats providing transportation. The arrival of the Long Island Railroad in 1868 allowed Huntington to become more accessible to new businesses and families seeking to move here. Originally, the LIRR planned to extend its track from Syosset, the then-closest terminus, following a northerly route to Cold Spring Harbor, and then east to the heart of Huntington Village, where a depot was planned at New York Avenue and Main Street. When the cost to acquire the necessary land became prohibitive, the railroad decided to build its new Huntington station in an area of the town called Fairground, located on the west side of New York Avenue, about a mile and a half south of the Village, where land was considerably cheaper.
Although only one house was reported to be standing there at the time of the construction of the first Huntington station, a thriving downtown community evolved over the years. The name Fairground came from a racetrack located about a mile away; but in 1912, after the railroad created the current underpass on New York Avenue and built a new station on the east side of New York Avenue, the name Fairground was changed to Huntington Station.
In 1872, Simon Hirschfeld, a New York City resident seeking a new life for his family, became the first Jew known to settle in Huntington. While other Jewish families were reported to have come to Huntington before Hirschfeld, apparently they did not feel welcome here and left. Hirschfeld on the other hand enjoyed Huntington, thought it was a friendly place and established a successful general store on the corner of Main and New Streets in the village. But in 1900, for reasons unknown to us, Hirschfeld moved his family back to New York City.
Possibly the first Jewish family to settle in the Fairground area was that of Charles Bersohn, believed to have moved here in the 1890s. Soon, other Jewish families, with now familiar names – Teich, Brenner, Levenbron, Gross, Aronson, Schwartz, Rosen, Klein and Goldstein – began to arrive. They sought out each other’s companionship and friendship and looked to one another to help with prayer services that were conducted in various homes. The Teich home on Lowndes Avenue was a popular place to meet and pray. A Torah had to be borrowed from New York City for use at services. Later, as the number of families increased, a larger meeting place was required (particularly for High Holiday services). The fire house at the Station, on New York Avenue next to Isaac Levenbron’s general store, was the venue of choice.
Isaac Levenbron enjoyed a good relationship with the volunteer fire fighters, as his store was outfitted with a telephone, something the fire station lacked. When a fire or other emergency occurred, a call would be placed to the general store, and Isaac would go next door to a tower in the rear of the fire house and ring the bell by pulling on a rope. For providing this service to the community, Isaac was sometimes referred to as the Fire Commissioner.
By 1906, the men had organized themselves under the name “Brotherhood of Jewish Men in Huntington.” The eight founding members were Samuel Schwartz, Elias Patiky, William Teich, Max Klein, Isaac Goldstein, Harris Goldstein, Isaac Levenbron and A. B. Gross. Although Elias Patiky was a resident of Kings Park in the Town of Smithtown, he reportedly attended services regularly and was included as one of the Brotherhood’s founding members. Without having access to any formal written records, it is difficult to know the names of all the early member families of the congregation. It is also difficult to know precisely what caused the Brotherhood to incorporate as the Huntington Hebrew Congregation. However, it is believed that the principal reason the congregation incorporated was a desire to have its own cemetery, as no Jewish burial grounds existed in the Huntington area at the time. Evidently, there was grave concern about what would happen if one of their own passed away.
A search was undertaken for suitable acreage, “away from town,” that could be used as the congregation’s cemetery. A tract of “about 20 acres, more or less” was located on Old Country Road in the village of Long Swamp, a rural area now known as South Huntington. A deal was struck to purchase the land from its owner, Mason J. Doyle, a resident of Brooklyn, for a few hundred dollars. Doyle had purchased the land at a county tax sale for $11.59. Since the necessary incorporating documents to create the Huntington Hebrew Congregation had not been finalized, William Teich (then the congregation president) took title to the property from Doyle in February, 1907. Shortly after the completion of incorporation formalities in March, Teich deeded the property over to the congregation. At least two interments took place in the cemetery later that year.
The congregation was originally organized under the provisions of New York State’s Membership Corporation Law. Ten congregants executed the certificate of incorporation: Samuel Schwartz, William Teich, Max Klein, Isaac Goldstein, A. B. Gross, Max Abrahm, Louis Gottlieb, Louis Weiss, Charles Bershon and Elle Aronson. Five of these gentlemen noted “Huntington” as their residence location while five others noted “Fairground.” Although the new congregation lacked its own building, it did have both a cemetery and an expanding membership. According to Isidor Raymon, he became the eighteenth member of the congregation when he joined upon moving to Fairground in the spring of 1910. According to an article Mr. Raymon wrote for the June 1966 Bulletin: “We used to meet in Silverstein’s house. Dues were $4 a year. We did not have a budget as we did not need one. The only spiritual leader we had was a shochet who killed the chickens, taught the children, served as a Bal Tefila for the High Holidays and provided us with kosher meat. When the Jewish population more than doubled we started to plan to build a Synagogue. First, we bought a lot on Church Street which was not very expensive – I believe we paid $150 for it. Then we started making plans for the building which was not difficult but raising funds was not easy. Incidentally, something happened to me personally on June 29, 1913. I almost drowned in Huntington Harbor. On the next day, Mr. Isaac Goldstein, the president of the congregation, came to congratulate me and said that in as much as I had survived he wanted me to be the first one on the donor list for the synagogue building. Of course, I heartily agreed and did my share. The drive for funds went fairly well and finally we succeeded in putting up the building – Orthodox style, with a balcony for the ladies.”
It is believed the original shul on Church Street was built by John Sweezy, a local carpenter who also served as a volunteer fireman. He was a big, tall, red-faced fellow and a friend of Isaac Levenbron. The “old Shul” became the pride and joy not only of its members but of the entire Jewish community. It served both the religious and social needs of the Jewish community, and, for twenty-plus years, it was the preferred location for numerous raffles, parties, meetings and dances. Some say the street was named Church Street because of the old shul. Upon the congregation’s relocation to its new home at Nassau and Woodhull Roads, the building was sold to Harry Lessne, who converted it to apartments. Today, the building’s outside structure survives at 11-A Church Street, between Academy Place and New York Avenue.
The earliest rabbis to serve the congregation were called “traveling rabbis.” They were hired to lead High Holiday and other services “as needed” and they usually came from New York City, traveled on the railroad, and often were put up as house guests at the home of William and Yetta Teich. The Hebrew school, actually a chedar, functioned under a system where each family paid the teacher directly for the lessons provided to its children. In the earliest days, when the shochet was the teacher, classes were held in the village and the congregation bought tickets on the jitney to get the children to school. Later there were two chedars, one in the Village and one in the Station. Then the school moved into the shul itself and stayed there. A 1928 Hebrew School Certificate issued to Belma Teich (Holbreich) and signed by “Mr. Klausner, Principal” is displayed in the congregation’s museum.
Leonard Diamond, the grandson of founding member Isaac Levenbron, was born in 1925. At HJC’s 65th anniversary celebration in 1973, Leonard recalled when his parents enrolled him in the Hebrew school. “We met in the cellar below the shul. We had two classes but not too many students. There weren’t that many Jewish children here in Huntington in those days. I do not remember any disciplinary problems as our teacher, the Rabbi, would have killed us.”
In the old shul, the bima was in the center of the floor, as was the Orthodox custom, and the seats were around it. Upstairs there was a balcony on each side where the women sat. Often, when a man was asked a family name and could not recall it, he would holler up to his wife and ask her. There were permanent pews but no central heating. Meetings and some parties were held in the basement around the potbellied stove. In winter, services were held there without the women because they were not allowed to sit with the men and it was too cold to hold services upstairs. Also, during the winter, socials were held in a rental hall over the old Security National Bank. Very fancy affairs were held at Columbia Hall, over Popkins’ in the Station.
In recounting other remembrances of the old shul, Leonard Diamond recalled, “There was a flight of steps leading up from the outside to the first floor. We entered into somewhat of a vestibule or small lobby with wooden steps leading upstairs to a three-sided balcony which was only occupied by women and little children like me. During services we would run up and down the steps, either sitting with my dad and grandfather downstairs or with my mother and grandmother upstairs.”
Lillian Goldstein (Stone), the daughter of founding member Isaac Goldstein, remembers when she would walk to the old shul with her parents on the High Holidays. In particular, she recalls that when it was time to recite the Yiskor memorial prayers on Yom Kippur, all the youngsters would be ushered out of the building. Undoubtedly, after a while some of the children would try to get a peek into what was going on inside. Lillian had a vivid memory of the first time she did this: she saw her father lying prostrate on the floor. “I thought Papa died.”
On the High Holidays, people came from Northport, Kings Park and surrounding communities and stayed with families in Huntington so they could walk to shul. Rabbi Lipshitz, one of the last “traveling” orthodox rabbis to serve the congregation in the old shul, was remembered as being tall and handsome. On the High Holidays it was said he made many female hearts flutter when he appeared for the walk to shul in full dress coat, top hat and cutaway tails.
In 1921, the Huntington Hebrew Ladies Aid Society was organized by Bella Raymon. Its formal certificate of incorporation, filed in 1927, stated that its purpose was “to collect funds through membership dues, proceeds of entertainments and voluntary contributions, and to distribute money thus raised in supplying food, clothing, shoes, fuel and other necessities to poor persons in their homes.” The group’s operations were principally to be conducted in the Town of Huntington and Kings Park in the Town of Smithtown. The first six Directors of the Society were listed as Celia Tomashoff, Anna Feinstein, Frances Kaplan, Sarah Fiegerman, Bella Raymon and Etta S. Raymon.
In 1930, Rabbi Mayer Israel Herman was hired to be the congregation’s spiritual leader and remained with us for seven years. He is fondly remembered as being “a help and inspiration to all” and was the first ordained Rabbi to serve in Suffolk County. Maurice Levenbron recalls a story that his father, Isaac, told him about how Rabbi Herman was interviewed for his position with the congregation. It seems that the Rabbi came to Huntington the railroad where he was met by one of the congregation officers, who brought him to the Village and then to an upstairs room above one of the stores where a friendly poker game was in progress. Ben Kaplan, one of the card players and a congregation officer, supposedly turned to the candidate and said, “OK Rabbi, how about making a speech?”
Rabbi Herman was hired at a time that the congregation was gaining new members so a decision was made to remodel the old shul by adding a large room underneath the existing building. Contracts were awarded and construction began, but as the steelwork began to be installed, a dispute arose over price discrepancies and work was halted. It was then decided that it would be better to seek land to build a new Huntington Jewish Center, as there were about a hundred families that could support a larger synagogue, and the town was continuing to grow.
In the midst of the Great Depression, committees were formed, and soon a parcel of approximately 1-1/2 acres was located at the intersection of Nassau and Woodhull Rabbi Roads. Led by President Ben Kaplan and Rabbi Herman, the congregation approved the purchase of this property and set about to plan the construction of a modern building. To pay for the land purchase and provide some additional funds for the new building construction, twelve acres of the congregation’s cemetery land was sold. The architectural firm of Ungerleider & Schlanger was retained to draft the initial plans for the new building. John Eilers of Huntington was awarded the construction contract. The estimated construction cost was about $48,000. Isaac Levenbron chaired the Building Committee, with Louis George Walsdorf, secretary, Joseph Patiky, treasurer, and James J. Weissman, attorney. Other committee members were Benjamin Raskin, Max Applebaum, Isidor Raymon and Samuel Kotler.
Ground was broken for the new shul on Sunday, April 16, 1933, and a cornerstone laying ceremony was held on Sunday, September 10, 1933, at which Max Hollander served as master of ceremonies. The event was highly publicized and remembered as being a community affair. Music was provided by the Huntington Manor Fire Department, the invocation and benediction were delivered by clergy from local churches, and among the many invited guests were several other clergy, elected officials, judges and educators. When construction was completed in January 1934, a story in the Long-Islander prominently noted that the building was debt-free.
The days of the early chedar were also drawing to an end, and Rabbi Herman guided our school as it began to assume proportions that could more reasonably be termed a Hebrew School. Our new building had a large classroom specifically for the use of the Hebrew and Sunday Schools, whose curricula now provided complete courses in the Hebrew language, as well as Jewish history and tradition. In addition, an adult education program was started under the Rabbi’s guidance. The Ladies Aid Society became the Sisterhood of the Huntington Jewish Center.
Rabbi Herman decided he would leave the congregation in order to pursue a new career in the practice of law. Although one of the most influential people in the realization of the new Nassau Road building, he was no longer the Rabbi when the Center was formally dedicated at a ceremony held on November 26, 1939.
Rabbi Herman was followed by Rabbi Hugo Mantell and by Rabbi Abraham Skydell, each of whom remained with the ongregation for a short time. Rabbi Jacob J. Honig led the congregation beginning about 1940. It was a time when new residents continued to arrive in Huntington which added to our membership rolls. However, the eyes of the world would soon be focused on the horrors rapidly unfolding in Europe and the Far East, and with the attack on Peal Harbor in 1941, the United States went to war. It was a saddened congregation that gave its blessings to its sons, daughters and spiritual leader, Rabbi Honig, as they responded to the call of our country, some of them never to return.
The ladies also responded to the call and became fully engaged in rolling bandages with the Red Cross, sending packages to “our boys” overseas, helping organize and support the blood banks, making frequent visits to Mason General Hospital in Brentwood and the Northport Veterans Administration Hospital, bringing comfort and aid to the hospitalized veterans. But congregation affairs went on, albeit with heavy hearts and constant prayer, with Rabbi Leon Kronish and Rabbi Judah Seidler caring for us during the war years. Then our prayers for a safe return were answered for many, but not all. We joined in the rejoicing for those who returned; we mourned and revered the memory of those who did not.
Rabbi Honig returned safely from his tour of duty and resumed the role of spiritual leader of the Center. As the country settled back to once again enjoy a peaceful world, Huntington continued to attract additional residents. Many came to our Center seeking a place of worship, a means of meeting Jewish people, and a place where their children could receive training in our religious heritage.
Rabbi Honig remained with the congregation for a short while longer and was followed in 1949 by Rabbi Solomon Roth. Soon the large auditorium, which originally had been thought of as more than adequate, was now overcrowded at many functions. During the High Holy Days it became necessary to borrow folding chairs from two local funeral parlors for use in the adjoining classrooms where the doors were left open and a public address system was installed in order to bring the service to those seated there.
When our Hebrew School registration reached over one hundred, the single classroom became inadequate, compelling our religious school classes to overflow into the small chapel and a divided auditorium, onto the stage and finally to the kitchen. A full-time education director was needed to adequately plan and coordinate our curriculum as well as to supervise and supplement our teaching staff. Rabbi David Gorlin was hired as our religious school principal. The Board struggled over the amount of tuition to be charged and ultimately decided that Sunday School tuition would be $10 for the first child and $5 for each additional child from the same family, while Hebrew School tuition was set at $25 for the first child and $10 for each additional.
The 1950s was a decade of unfettered growth for the congregation, a period in which we focused on the needs of an expanding membership, planned for the future, addressed the needs of our aging members and faced up to the issue of Jewish women’s rights. Membership continued to grow due, in part, to the reasonable annual dues of $60 payable quarterly in advance. Since the need for larger quarters had been recognized, a new building fund was established. Initial donations to the fund came primarily from the profits of weekly Bingo games sponsored by the Center. The games featured a $100 jackpot and more than $16,000 was raised before they ended due to a lack of volunteers.
Mitzi Aronson was Sisterhood president when the movement to build crystallized in 1953. Working together, the congregation and Sisterhood managed a highly successful fund-raising Building Journal, a campaign that took two years to complete. At a 1955 celebration dinner dance held at the conclusion of the campaign Mitzi wrote, “Having come to understand that in a sense the Center is a second home for all of us, the women who accept the challenge of its constant improvement are the foundation upon which our Sisterhood structure is built.”
Building committees were established; each member was asked to tax himself and contribute towards the fund. On May 23, 1955, the congregation purchased a five and a half acre site on Park Avenue for $32,000. The property was a portion of the old Teich dairy and beef farm, which, in the congregation’s early years, had served as a picnic ground for outings.
Although the building campaign consumed a great deal of time and effort, the on-going needs of the membership had to be addressed. In the 1950s only Jewish males could be Congregation members and new member applicants were screened by an Investigation Committee which checked on each applicant’s credentials. A unique problem faced the Committee in January, 1952 when Mrs. Martha Ehrlich applied for congregation membership in her own name. Since no provision permitted her admission as a member, the matter was referred to the Board for further consideration.
By the mid-1950s, the Congregation’s budget approached $37,000 and religious school registration swelled to 235 students. About 170 youngsters were participating in our youth program and were in need of a basketball coach. Congregation meetings were well attended, possibly due to the gin rummy tournaments that followed the conclusion of business.
With the membership growing by more than 70 new members in two years, the Board wrestled with a number of issues affecting High Holiday services. One issue was whether to allow the organ to be played. Another was whether the usual open Kol Nidre appeal should be eliminated in favor of a softer “solicitation by letter” approach . A third issue was whether to rent a 40′ x 100′ fire- and water-proof tent, with capacity for 650 persons for the High Holidays. When that proposal failed, the Board adopted a “first come, first served – no reserved seating” policy, in an attempt to address the anticipated “tight seating” that congregants would face at the upcoming services.
At least four times during our history, small groups of members split off from HJC to form new synagogues – Temple Beth El, Young Israel, South Huntington Jewish Center, and Kehilat Shalom. The reasons varied from spiritual and ritual disagreements to geographic concerns. However, in each case, a group of members, deeply committed to one of Judaism’s four main steams of practice, formed their own successful community. Despite these occasional splits, HJC has remained strong – perhaps stronger for the pruning. The Board approved a $100 donation to Temple Beth El’s 1954 building fund drive, and, in 1956, agreed to loan a Sefer Torah to the newly formed Deer Park Jewish Center for use during the High Holidays, with the proviso that “they insure it.” After considerable debate, the Board endorsed amendments to the By Laws which provided for women to become Congregation members with equal rights to serve as Officers and Trustees. However, when the congregation voted on this amendment, a modification was approved that essentially prevented women from holding the positions of President, First Vice President or Second Vice President. It would be another several years before that restriction was lifted. By 1957, annual dues had risen to $75.
Following Rabbi Roth’s departure, the congregation took the better part of a year interviewing rabbinic candidates, before selecting Rabbi Arthur David to be our spiritual leader. Despite his relative youth, Rabbi David at 29 years of age ably provided religious inspiration to our still-growing membership and demonstrated administrative and personal skills that reinvigorated our committees. Building pledges were pursued in a more active campaign . A professional fund-raising firm was hired. Architects were consulted and one finally retained. Preliminary sketches and final drawings were completed, and contractors bid on the project. Breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, and raffles were held, and finally – a new mortgage! The new building was estimated to cost about $350,000. On April 19, 1959 yet another groundbreaking ceremony took place.
With construction of our new home already underway in the spring of 1960, the congregation entered into a contract to purchase a home on Harriet Lane, adjacent to our new property and building, that would become HJC’s parsonage, to be used by Rabbi David and his family. However, no sooner had the ink on the purchase contract dried, the Rabbi tendered his resignation. A search for his success was undertaken immediately, and, that summer, Rabbi Lloyd Tennenbaum was selected to be our next spiritual leader.
On September 11, 1960 – with a membership of nearly 400 families – a marble cornerstone, brought from Israel by Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Raymon, was laid. A time capsule containing a Bible, Siddur, Tallis, mezuzah, Jewish flag and soil from Israel were placed in the cornerstone of the new building. William Teich Greene helped cement the cornerstone in place as a representative of the fourth generation of Huntington Jewish Center members while Rabbi Joseph H. Lief delivered the benediction.
It was on Friday evening April 21, 1961 that the first Shabbat service was celebrated in our new Park Avenue sanctuary, with the bat mitzvah of Sandra Gordon, daughter of Milton and Selma Gordon. Earlier in the day, the Torahs were paraded under a chupah from the Nassau Road shul to Park Avenue, where they were brought into the new sanctuary and placed in the Ark. The parade included Elliot Nirenberg, Howard and Donald Novick, Andrew Levy and his sister Ellen (Gordon) who all had been members since childhood.
Two days later, scores of members gave of their time and effort to help move as much of the congregation’s property as possible – books, desks, chairs, supplies, etc. – from Nassau Road to Park Avenue. Sisterhood provided delicious sandwiches to the workers for lunch. The new building, while not completely finished or landscaped, was a joy to behold. There was a huge sliding wall to separate the sanctuary and social hall with seating capacity for 1,200. Two kitchens (one meat and one dairy) had been outfitted with facilities for catered celebrations. Six modern classrooms were waiting to be used by our Religious School. Air conditioning and the decoration of the lobby, kiddush lounge and sanctuary would come some years later. On April 28, 1961, one week after moving into 510 Park Avenue, the congregation held Sabbath services, at which time the installation of new officers and trustees took place.
A more formal dedication of the new facilities took place about a year later. The week of May 22-27, 1962 was set aside as the congregation’s Dedication Week. It featured an Institute for Judaism which was aimed at fostering an open dialogue with Christian clergy, an open house, exhibits, Shabbat services, a dinner-dance, and formal dedication ceremonies.
By the spring of 1965, a new campaign was needed. This one had a very simple goal: expand the school wing by building four more classrooms. The campaign was swift and successful as was the construction. A formal dedication ceremony was held on Sunday afternoon, December 19, to coincide with Chanukah.
The 1960s proved to be an unusual and stressful time for the country and, in some respects, for the congregation as well. Civil rights issues inflamed passions, and campus protests challenged the Vietnam War. Rabbi Tennenbaum was outspoken in both word and deed, particularly on civil rights issues. The U.S. economy remained fairly strong, and Suffolk was one of the fastest growing counties in the country. This growth kept up a steady flow of new members for the Center.
Two key additions to our professional staff occurred in the early 1960s. Cantor Stephen Stein, who joined the congregation in 1963, was kept busy training the many Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrants as well as organizing congregational choirs. Morris Samber, our dedicated full-time principal, oversaw an ever-improving religious school and sought new ways to keep our post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrants interested in continuing their Jewish studies. The popular TNT Club was an outgrowth of his efforts.
In 1968, with the Center now boasting 518 families, an all-time high, the Ritual Committee recommended that no High Holiday honors be given to officers and trustees in order to offer honors to more congregants. In order to generate more income for the Center, serious discussions took place on the desirability of having an exclusive in-house caterer.
It was in 1969 that the congregation decided to end its nine-year relationship with Rabbi Tennenbaum. Our new Rabbi would be Tobias Rothenberg who was hired in time for the High Holidays. However, when Rabbi Tennenbaum accepted the pulpit at a new synagogue in Cold Spring Harbor, a number of members followed him there. This caused a fairly significant and unexpected revenue shortfall in dues, tuition and Kol Nidre donations, that adversely impacted our budget and which took several years to overcome.
The early 1970s were years of financial stress for the HJC leadership . Critical problems affecting the Center’s finances, worship rituals, cemetery and synagogue personnel had to be resolved. Ed Alcosser was congregation president in 1973 and the financial predicament of the synagogue boiled down to this simple fact: expenses exceeded income. Cash flow was frequently at a standstill. Sisterhood came to the congregation’s rescue by loaning $5,000 to cover a budget deficit, which was repaid six months later, following a $50 per member assessment. “VFP” and “FSD,” (Voluntary Financial Program and Fair Share Dues), were two concepts debated at Board meetings as the Trustees sought new ideas for meeting the income needs of the Center.
Rabbi Rothenberg would remain with the congregation for 17 years, making him our longest serving rabbi up to that time. He was responsible for organizing the Huntington Township Adult Education program, providing the impetus for the formation of several Chavurot, starting an adult ladies bat mitzvah class, giving bat mitzvah girls the right to hold their simchas on Shabbat morning, and to leading congregational trips to Israel.
In the 1970s, the Board of Trustees spent considerable time trying to put the synagogue on firmer financial footing. While new members were still arriving as Huntington continued to grow, the pace was noticeably slower as the real estate cycle took a downward turn. In seeking ways to attract “outside revenue” to the synagogue’s coffers, the congregation voted to authorize an exclusive caterer to operate within our building.
By the mid-1970s, it was time once again to form a building completion committee to undertake various projects that had been put aside. The first effort in 1976 was to build the Rabbi Lief Chapel to provide a dedicated place for our Daily Minyan and Junior Congregation. Two years later, the Marsh Youth Center, “the busiest room in the house,” was erected to provide for the continuation of cultural and social needs of our children. Then it was finally time to complete our sanctuary and lobby: new pews, wall coverings, a Tree of Life, beautiful stained glass windows, a new eternal light and a redesigned bima. A sanctuary dedication service took place on April 3, 1981. Later, the two lobby towers were outfitted and became the homes of our museum and Sisterhood gift shop.
In 1985, with Rabbi Rothenberg’s retirement a year away, Rabbi Neil Kurshan was hired to be our spiritual leader. The Kurshans moved into the congregation’s parsonage at 9 Leslie Lane, adjacent to HJC. When we celebrated our centennial year in 1997, he was completing his twenty-second year with the congregation, making him the longest-serving rabbi in our history. Under Rabbi Kurshan’s leadership many innovations, enhancements and changes have come about. We are now a fully egalitarian congregation and enjoy a widely diverse membership. We welcome interfaith families. Our religious school, nursery school and innovative Family Life programs have brought us much acclaim and many honors.
In 1995, we once again undertook a capital campaign that became the largest in the Center’s history, with more than three million dollars raised. Following a ground breaking ceremony on June 21, 1996, several major projects were undertaken which included renovation of the sanctuary, social hall, Kiddush lounge and lobby; modernization of mechanical systems throughout the building; expansion of the Park Avenue side of the school wing, which increased classroom size and provided space for the Rabbi’s and general offices; expansion to the east side of the school wing and the creation of the Family Life Center. Still other renovations were made to the youth building and lobby.
The 1990s also saw many of the youngsters who grew up in the synagogue assume leadership roles in the congregation as officers, trustees and committee chairpersons. Over the past several years, Rabbi Kurshan’s inspirational guidance, coupled with the motivation demonstrated by our lay leadership, has led to the congregation being awarded many honors by national organizations. We can indeed be proud that, in our one hundred and five years, we have grown to become not only a leader in local affairs but in the national Jewish community as well.
It seems appropriate that in our 2007 Centennial Year, following a tradition that began a century ago, a new campaign was initiated. The Huntington Jewish Center Centennial Endowment Campaign has as its goal the establishment of an endowment fund that will help ensure a viable future for our congregation. “This campaign is not just about dollars, but about the life of the community,” said Rabbi Kurshan.
About ten years ago, Rabbi Kurshan reflected that one of the best things about the Huntington Jewish Center was how he thought it mirrored many of the strengths he saw in the greater Huntington community. “The HJC is located in a historical district, near the site where the town was settled in 1653. The great grandparents of some families in our congregation arrived in town more than 100 years ago. We have many second- third- and fourth-generation synagogue families (with some fifth-generation children.) These roots engender a loyalty to the synagogue, which enriches the lives of those of us who are newer arrivals. The Chamber of Commerce does not describe Huntington as hamisch in its brochure, but it’s not a bad term. Although a busy place, there is a rhythm to the town that is not as fast as some other communities. Similarly in the shul, the pace of activity is intense, but most of us make the time to ask about the welfare of our fellow congregants. People may be running to or from the Minyan, or from Religious School or Nursery School drop-off or pick-up, but you still can find them socializing in the hallways or even in town over a cup of coffee. The synagogue remains a place where many of us come to know one another on more than a superficial level.”
We hope that everyone will draw inspiration from our common story, which embraces and enriches all of us as members of the Huntington Hebrew Congregation. Perhaps you are descended from or related to one of the many families mentioned in this article. Maybe you recognize one of our founders names, or you are simply interested in our spiritual family. Join us, or rejoin us, and become part of Long Island’s Jewish history.