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The Community Synagogue

The History of The Community Synagogue

Reprinted with permission

The number of Jews settling in Port Washington grew dramatically after World War II. They met in private homes and began pursuing the vision of building a special place to fulfill their dream. Twenty-five families joined together and declared themselves to be The Community Synagogue, Temple Beth Am: The House of the People.

The first service was held on February 9, 1952 at the American Legion Hall with a borrowed Torah, a borrowed ark and a part-time rabbi (Rabbi Jay Kaufman, who would go on to become the director of B’nai Brith). Religious School for the children was held at the Odd Fellows Hall and High Holy Days were observed at the local firehouse. The first president of The Community Synagogue was Nathaniel "Nat" Hess, who set the high standards that have guided the congregation through the years.

In 1953, Dr. Eugene Borowitz was appointed as the first full time rabbi. Considered to be the founding rabbi of the congregation, Dr. Borowitz later went on to become a noted teacher of theology and education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and author of numerous books on Judaism. Other senior rabbis followed Dr. Borowitz to continue the Community Synagogues tradition of distinguished religious leadership.

In the fall of 1952, the congregation purchased a four acre parcel of land at the entrance of Harbor Acres in Sands Point, where they hoped to build a permanent home for The Community Synagogue. However, neighbors objected and fought the sale in court. Given the sense that the synagogue would not be welcome, congregants continued their search.

In 1954 “The Chimneys,” the 24.5 acre estate of Mrs. Christian Holmes built in the 1920s, came on the market. The congregation moved quickly to purchase it but again encountered resistance. This time the Sands Point Village Board imposed crippling restrictions. The Synagogue fought the Village in court and received support from several prominent political leaders in the state.  Most notably, Averill Harriman, a neighbor and at the time the Democratic candidate for governor intervened, arguing for religious freedom and worship. Finally, in 1956, a landmark decision by the New York Court of Appeals held in favor of the congregation and the purchase was made. Three weeks later, The Community Synagogue held religious services at The Chimneys.  The building was formally dedicated on June 1, 1957.

The congregation brought in noted architect Stanley Katz to design a master plan including a new wing that would house the sanctuary and social hall. Katz used a hexagonal form to blend with the angles of the original building, and he selected materials to match or complement the colors and textures of the existing mansion. 

By the late 50’s, the congregation had grown to 200 families when 60 families left to found Temple Judea in Manhasset. In 1963, Dr. Martin S. Rozenberg became the spiritual leader of the congregation. Rabbi Rozenberg was beloved for his compassion, wisdom and scholarship. He was the only congregational rabbi to be involved in the most recent translation of the Tanakh (Bible) produced by the Jewish Publication Society.

By 1971, membership reached  450 households and the congregation instituted a self-imposed limit on further growth. Another group of members broke off to found the Port Jewish Center. In the following years, the congregation abandoned its membership limits. By 1986, the synagogue had a membership of some 550 households.

Following Rabbi Rozenberg’s retirement in 1996, Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin became the spiritual leader of The Community Synagogue. In 2003, Rabbi Irwin Zeplowitz became the congregation's senior rabbi and Cantor Claire Franco became the congregation's cantor.  When they arrived had grown to some 600 families. They are currently joined by Rabbi Jade Sank Ross to form our clergy team.

In 2008 The Community Synagogue  completed a multi-million dollar expansion of its facilities.  The project produced a world class Learning Center (which houses, in large part, the L'dor Vador Early Childhood Center), a intimate and serenely beautiful Beit Tefillah (chapel), a flexibly designed multipurpose room, a beautiful new library, an efficient main office, refurbished Religious School classrooms, indoor and outdoor play areas, expanded parking and many other less visible improvements. The new facilities have been built as an expansion of “The Chimneys,” retaining special features like historic mural walls and woodwork and thus keeping the spirit of the historic home built in 1926. 

Our congregation has continued to grow over the past decade and we now have 765 member households.  More info here!

The Chimneys
The Chimneys
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