Great Neck South Middle School student Harley Centner had waited for two years to conduct his Bar Mitzvah ceremony at Temple Beth El in Great Neck.
But when the day arrived Saturday, a suspicious package was found at the temple that resulted in the evacuation of the temple, forcing Centner and his family to relocate the services to another location.
“I was really glad when I found out that the rabbi found another location to hold the service because of all the preparation I did for this day,” Centner said. “I was not nervous waiting in the parking lot because everybody around me was calm about the situation that was taking place. It was still a great day despite everything that happened.”
Leslie Centner, Harley’s mother, said she couldn’t believe what was occurring at the temple one day after a synagogue in Chicago had a bomb threat.
“It was a surreal feeling when we got to the temple,” Centner said. “I heard there was a bomb scare and I was nervous for the guests who were standing in the parking lot who might have gone inside the building. I was only hoping for the best and not thinking for the worst. I wanted to be calm and remain strong to not scare my children.”
At 9 a.m., Nassau County arson bomb squad detectives noticed a leather luggage case near trees behind Temple Beth El. A detective wearing protective gear and a mechanical bomb detector was used to determine the contents of the package. Police said the suit case contained articles of clothing including a child-size jacket, three shirts wrapped together, size-eight women’s shoes and a small teddy bear with a heart engraved on its chest with the words “I am a girl.”
During the investigation, Temple Beth El Rabbi Meir Feldman told more than 150 guests who were waiting in the temple’s parking lot, located at 5 Old Mill Road, to walk towards Temple Israel, located at 108 Old Mill Road, because that is where the morning’s Shabbat services would take place.
“I am very grateful to Temple Israel and all the rest of the other synagogues for their connection and gratitude to this large Jewish community for their help,” Feldman said. “The Centner family is very special and were understanding of the serious situation that was taking place Saturday morning. The moment called for us to come together and draw upon the great resources we have in this community and we were able to find another location to host our service.”
Leon Silverberg, executive director at Temple Israel who was also executive director at Temple Beth El for 19 years, said he wanted to do the right gesture and reach out to the congregants who could not attend the morning service at Temple Beth El.
“All congregations in this community have supported one another through difficult situations,” Silverberg said. “We are more than glad to help other temples when they are in need. There has been wonderful cooperation between all the congregations when people are put in difficult situations like this and we have always found ways to help each other.”
Temple Israel organized a separate room to seat the guests from Temple Beth El. Temple Israel provided the room with a Torah and prepared seats for all the guests to sit down during the ceremony.
“Everybody made the best of a difficult situation and did it in an incredible way,” Feldman said. “Last Saturday was a beautiful morning where Temple Israel was incredibly generous and thoughtful to prepare for us as they did.”
Feldman said the investigation was over in the afternoon and the Centner family was able to host their luncheon after the Shabbat service ended back at Temple Beth El.
“Everybody was confident the police did their job,” Centner said. “Nobody was rattled to go back and enjoy a kiddush after a long morning.”
Feldman said all the events that took place last Saturday morning will strengthen how the Centner family will remember Harley’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony.
“This was a meaningful morning that will be more memorable because of this experience,” Feldman said. “The Centner family will remember this special day in a way that is different than many other families can look back on their son’s Bar Mitzvah. It is day they will really never forget now.”
Centner said she agreed with Rabbi Feldman and that all the hard work and effort prepared for this day will be remembered forever by the family.
“Our family really felt loved that day,” Centner said. “The leadership of all the rabbi’s and cantor’s was amazing how they comforted everybody. Despite everything that was taking place, this was still a spiritual moment and everybody was supportive to make sure nothing spoiled our son’s day.