After Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum, of Temple Emanu-El, extinguished the East Meadow synagogue’s “eternal flame” last Sunday, there was a pause and a silence that was broken by a woman’s stifled cry.
In the Jewish faith, a synagogue is adorned with an eternal flame symbolizing God’s love. When Bar-Nahum “doused the flame” — a light encased in blue glass above the Torah’s ark — it represented the temple’s official closure before its merger with Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh. A chorus of sobs from the congregation followed the ritual, as friends and family embraced one another and joined in prayer before walking nearly four miles to their new home.
“Up until that moment, I didn’t process what was happening,” said Randi Shubin Dresner, a congregant who belonged to the temple for most of her life and whose children are now members. “I didn’t think about it until they shut the light off. That’s when I started to cry and really see the reality of it.”
Although June 10 marked the closing of Temple Emanu-El, it also was the beginning of a new congregation, and Bar-Nahum said, “There’s no break in between our community’s existence.”
After the last religious service in East Meadow, nearly 200 congregants marched in the heat for 3.8 miles to their new home at Temple B’nai Torah, with dozens taking turns carrying the Torah.
From mourning to dancing
When a congregation is blessed with a new Torah scroll, Rabbi Bar-Nahum explained, it holds a parade symbolizing the story of David bringing the Torah into Jerusalem. Quoting a passage from Psalms, Bar-Nahum said that the march shifts the mood from a period of mourning to one of dancing.
“I’m sad leaving our temple, but I’m looking forward to a new beginning in a larger family,” said Gary Adler, 63, of East Meadow, who has been a Temple Emanu-El member for 23 years. As the congregation marched south on Merrick Avenue toward Wantagh, Adler was one of the first to carry the Torah.
Bar-Nahum also likened the Torah march to the nomadic nature of the early Jewish people, who created a transportable worship tool that they took with them when they were exiled from Israel beginning in the eighth century.
“When Jews don’t have a place to call home, they’re meant to come together,” said Sharon Curry, a member of Temple B’nai Torah who greeted the East Meadow congregants at the halfway point of their trip and said, “Welcome home.”
According to Bar-Nahum, the Jewish community on Long Island is in a transition period, with congregations consolidating and merging. In 2008, Temple Judea, in Massapequa, merged with the Suburban Temple of Wantagh to become Temple B’nai Torah.
Temple Emanu-El President Lane Rubin and his executive board voted to merge with B’nai Torah last spring, creating a regional Reform synagogue. Going forward, Bar-Nahum will lead the congregation with Rabbi Howard Nacht and Cantor Rica Timman, both of Temple B’nai Torah. Rubin and Les Kule, of Temple B’nai Torah, began discussions with advisory councils and subcommittees in the interest of compromising on the temple’s differences in such areas as religious education and worship rituals.
Curry is on the new membership committee, where, she said, she and her colleagues from both synagogues discussed what they loved about their congregations and rooted their dialogues in their core values, like strengthening education and community programs.
The new temple will see a number of changes in its educational programs under its new director of education, Meredith Lubin. Starting next year, high school students will learn conversational Hebrew, and children will learn to write Hebrew in script before their bar or bat mitzvah.
Other changes include dietary regulations, because Temple Emanu-El has a more traditional outlook than Temple B’nai Torah and kept kosher. As a compromise, the kitchen at B’nai Torah will be kosher-style.
“The important things for many of us long-term congregants is that we don’t want to take anything away from either congregation,” said Dan Rosner, a member of Temple Emanu-El who is on a number of transitional committees. “I’m very hopeful for the future. I think our congregations have a lot more in common than we have differences.”
Uniting under a chuppah
Before the new congregants marched into Temple B’nai Torah, they walked under a chuppah, or wedding canopy, to symbolize the merger as a marriage.
Once they entered, Bar-Nahum placed a mezuzah, or palm-sized scroll containing verses from the Torah, which was made from glass taken from the facade of Temple Emanu-El, against a wall of B’nai Torah. Other relics that came with the East Meadow congregants included a wall menorah, a Holocaust memorial, a mural commemorating the temple’s 50th anniversary and the eternal flame, which Bar-Nahum lit at the beginning of the new congregation’s first service.