Temple Sinai to celebrate 65 years

Richard Tedesco

Temple Sinai, which was founded in Roslyn in 1947, will observe its congregation’s 65th anniversary on Saturday, Dec. 16 with a celebration of the “Jewish community.”

“It’s very exciting that from its early beginnings, Temple Sinai has grown and continues to be a wonderful community in Roslyn that has grown and flourished through the years. Celebrating 65 years is very special,” said Ethel Liebeskind, director of Temple Sinai.

The celebration, which will be held on the last day of Hanukkah, will include a cantorial concert at 7 p,m. that will feature the music of cantors from across the New York area followed by a dessert reception.

Over the years, the temple has featured such speakers as Sen. Charles Schumer, author William Safire, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Secretary of State  Henry Kissinger, accomplished attorney and author Alan Dershowitz, and Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, and Shimon Peres. And on April 16, President Bill Clinton is scheduled to address congregants and the public.

But it’s early days were far more humble.

The temple began with a small group of young Jewish families who organized the Roslyn Jewish Community Center. They had no building or place of worship, but in the spirit of ecumenical interaction that has become a signature trait of its mission, a local church became its place of worship. Its Hebrew School met at the Roslyn Heights Firehouse.

Property was purchased in 1948 and construction of a synagogue for the reform Jewish congregation was completed in 1950, with new additions, including a school wing, social hall and sanctuary, built and dedicated in 1955.

In 1960 the congregation officially became Temple Sinai of Roslyn. 

In 1986, a fundraising effort led to a renovation of the temple which added  an early morning minyan and three or four B’nai Mitzvah on Shabbat mornings. 

In 1987 Rabbi Aaron Petuchowski became the senior rabbi of the congregation and expanded the professional staff to include the position of rabbinic intern. Petuchowski’s tenure was also marked by a capital campaign and two successful endowment campaigns that  complete refurbished the temple’s nursery, Hebrew and religious schools as well as the establishment of an endowment fund to ensure the financial future of the congregation.  

Since its initial construction in 1949, Temple Sinai has been expanded three times and now encompasses approximately 55,000 square feet. 

In 1996 the Temple gutted and rebuilt a fully capitalized Hebrew, religious, and nursery school wing. Most recently, the temple experienced a multi-million dollar expansion including the new Feinstein Learning Center featuring classrooms and a multi-purpose space.

From a small group of Jewish families, Temple Sinai has evolved into a congregation that currently boasts 900 member families from greater Roslyn, East HIlls, East Williston, Westbury, Jericho and beyond, according to Rabbi Michael White, who has been its principal rabbi for the past 16 years.  

“It’s a wonderful community. Temple Sinai is justifiably proud of the role it has played in the greater community, that we have not only bee a force for Jewish study and a force for important issues,” White said. “We have a lot to be grateful for.”

The expansion of the temple’s program have been aimed at accommodating the needs of both adults and younger congregants, White said.

“We’ve grown in the resources we offer in adult learning and lectures on both classical Jewish topics and the Bible and contemporary concerns of public policy and community matters,” he said. “We’ve grown significantly in our community for teenagers.”

White said learning programs for younger congregants have become “more experiential,” and noted that a group of 30 children from the temple visited Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC. last weekend to learn about public policy and how liberal Judaism influences it.

White said interactions between the temple and churches and mosques continues. 

A joint learning and women’s group gets together regularly with members of the Islamic Center of Long Island. And he said Temple Sinai works closely with Friendship Baptist Church on its campaign to feed the hungry.

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