Walking with his granddaughter, Hailey, then 7, two years ago in Philadelphia, Rockville Centre native Ira Poliakoff spotted an old building. “You could see the brick work,” he said, “seventy-five years ago it was a synagogue that was repurposed. I wanted to continue knowing of their past.”
That stroll sprung the idea for a book that he put together with the help of several Jewish organizations and two longtime friends. “Synagogues of Long Island” was published by the History Press in December of last year. It recounts the history of more than 250 synagogues that exist or did exist in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The stories begin with Amityville and end with the Five Towns village of Woodsburgh.
A retired owner of a business that provided back office services to banks in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Poliakoff, 72, lived in Rockville Centre from ages 4 to 25. He served as a youth director at the Oceanside Jewish Center and Queensboro Hill Jewish Center.
“I used a variety of methods,” he said, on how he conducted his research. “I worked in some synagogues and knew the lay of the land. I contacted a variety of umbrella Jewish organizations that had a pretty good list. For those [synagogues] long gone, I did personal interviews and libraries helped. It is a great retirement project.”
Poliakoff’s family were members of Temple B’nai Sholom in Rockville Centre. The original building on Windsor Avenue was built in 1909, and his was the last graduating class before it was demolished in 1949. He also attended the newer synagogue on Hempstead Avenue that now houses Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David — a merger of B’nai Sholom and Congregation Beth David of Lynbrook.
“Temple Adas Israel is the oldest continuously operating synagogue on Long Island,” he said, “and what I enjoyed most is the fact that Teddy Roosevelt, when he came home from Puerto Rico in 1898 (from the Spanish-American War) he landed at Montauk. He had quite a few Jewish soldiers (in the Rough Riders). Legend has it that he donated a Torah scroll to the synagogue.” The story is included in the temple’s history on its website.
Sandy Feit and Norman Korowitz, Poliakoff’s longtime friends, took photographs for Poliakoff. Both have known Poliakoff for roughly 60 years. Feit was a youth director with Temple B’nai Sholom and Korowitz, an usher at Poliakoff’s wedding, met him through United Synagogue Youth that aims to have Jewish youngsters from different communities develop friendships.
“I’m not really a photographer,” said Feit, an Oceanside resident. “I took them with an iPad. They were good and [Poliakoff] liked them. I look at it with some aspect of sadness. The synagogues on the South Shore expanded like crazy in the early 1950s and ’60s. Unfortunately a lot of those are gone.”
For Korowitz, who lives in Mt. Sinai on the North Shore of Suffolk County and spends time in Del Ray Beach, Fla., said it was a great way to bond with his grandson. “I went with my grandson, Jake Varano, he is 15 and involved in USY. I took him in the car and we used the iPad.”
Poliakoff said he is working on his second book. It will focus on Philadelphia, He also has plans to write a book on Conservative Judaism from a political standpoint. “Synagogues of Long Island” can be purchased online and at book stores.