Temple Chaverim formed in 1981, when eight families gathered for weekly Shabbat services in the home of Carole and Mel Kantor on Long Ridge Road in Plainview, New York. Mel became Temple Chaverim’s first president, a position he held for 10 years, and Carol led us musically for our first 17 years. In short order, Rabbi Cy Lowenheim was invited to guide the community. Rented space was soon found at the United Methodist Church in Woodbury, New York.
High Holy Day services were held in the main chapel of the church with closed circuit TV provided in the upstairs hall. They were open to the entire community and, often, there wasn’t enough space for the 1000 people who came to worship. Each service had to be conducted twice. Everyone pitched in to convert the church space into a synagogue. Chairs were rented, church books were removed and Jewish symbols painted on oak tag were used to cover up the church’s stained glass windows.
For close to twelve years, Temple Chaverim worshipped and learned Torah in the church. Volunteers ran everything and just about every family had someone working on a committee. The synagogue grew every year, but when Rabbi Lowenheim left us in 1991 Temple Chaverim was in a difficult position.
A student rabbi from the Academy of Jewish Religion was hired and High Holy Day services were moved to The Galaxy, a local catering venue. Unfortunately, these changes were not well received and by the end of the year Temple Chaverim was at the verge of collapse. Membership dropped significantly and we had just $450 in the bank.
After a pivotal meeting that went late into the night, personal financial commitments were made to keep the doors of the temple open and begin a search for a new rabbi. Rabbi Jonathan Hecht, a graduate of Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, was hired in July, 1992, and a few months later Temple Chaverim found a new home at the Mid-Island Y-JCC.
Rabbi Hecht came to Temple Chaverim with tremendous energy, a firm grounding in Reform Judaism, and a deep knowledge of the sources of Judaism. He served for one year, part time, while completing his doctoral studies at New York University. His strong connections to the institutions of Reform Judaism, its seminary (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion), and his membership in the Central Conference of American Rabbis, paved the way for Temple Chaverim’s admission into the main stream of Jewish life.
After one year, Rabbi Hecht and the Temple leadership agreed to work towards becoming a member of the Reform movement of Judaism, to increase the amount of time that children learned in religious school, and to search for a permanent home. Two years later, Temple Chaverim moved its High Holy Day services to the Manetto Hill Jewish Center building, since they were using the Mid Island Y-JCC building.
Those years at the JCC included much soul searching, discussion and debate, focused on the search for a permanent home. By 1996 Temple Chaverim had joined the Union for Reform Judaism and located a prime property for its home.
1050 Washington Avenue, Plainview, New York was purchased. It had a long driveway up a hill, at the top of which sat a family home, a barn, and an outdoor swimming pool. The property straddled two counties: the driveway and lower lot was in Nassau while the house, and other buildings were in Suffolk.
An architectural firm, Levin/Brown, that specialized in synagogues, was hired and we began designing our new synagogue building with its magnificent hand carved wooden Ark (see “The History of Our Ark” below).
In September, 1999 Temple Chaverim’s new home was ready. With an exterior that evoked the stone of Jerusalem and an interior that warmly embraced all who entered, this new space represented the end of a journey that began in the hearts and minds of a few and now opened its doors wide to all those seeking a spiritual, social and religious connection to the Jewish people. Within two years membership increased from 180 families to 400 families.
We next turned our attention to issues of substance. We began reshaping the Jewish educational experience at Temple Chaverim. We hired a fully invested and properly trained cantor who was a graduate of the HUC’s School of Sacred Music. We added support staff and teachers, established a Men’s Club and Sisterhood, and wrote a mission statement (see “Temple Chaverim Mission Statement” below).
We have been led by many great clergy in addition to Rabbi Hecht. In 2001, Cantor Kari Siegel-Eglash joined our staff and our musical program began to flourish. In 2004, Cantor Bradley Hyman came on board and brought with him a cantorial style that is very much in keeping with our philosophy of participatory worship. In 2008, Temple Chaverim engaged a second rabbi, Rabbi Josh Lobel, to help develop its growing youth program. In 2011, Rabbi Lobel took a new position on the West Coast and Rabbi Debra Bennet was hired. Rabbi Bennet instituted a new program, Tuesday Night Live, our extremely successful program for Youth engagement. Every one of our clergy are fully trained at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, the official seminary of the Reform movement. We have also helped train rabbinic and cantorial interns, including Rabbi Pam Malender, Cantor David Muchnik, Cantor Marni Camhi, Cantor Melanie Cooperman, and Cantor Tiffany Katoff.
Temple Chaverim now has 500 families and is led by Rabbi Jonathan Hecht, Rabbi Debra Bennet, Cantor Bradley Hyman, Director of Education Debbye Brandell, and Executive Director Eileen Schneyman. Working together with a dynamic board of over 40 lay leaders, we are writing new chapters in the history of a synagogue that is still living up to its original mission: to welcome all who want to live a Jewish life in a community of friends.
History of our Ark
In the summer of 1996, when Temple Chaverim began designing our present home, a committee was established to work with our architects. One idea the design committee had was to find an antique ark that could be reconditioned and installed in our sanctuary, thus blending together old and new, contemporary and historic. Bruce Roberts, a member of that committee, found a book by Oscar Israelowitz entitled Synagogues of New York. Bruce saw in it a photo of a beautiful wooden ark that had been in the First Independent Hebrew, Congregation Ahavas Israel, in Jamaica, Queens. That synagogue located at 90-21 161st St., in Jamaica, was founded in 1900 and when it closed, in 1980, its Ark was disassembled and placed in storage.
Bruce contacted Oscar and inquired about the Ark. Thanks to Bruce, Oscar Israelowitz, Charles Maurer (a surviving trustee of the Jamaica synagogue), and woodworker Marc Potecha, this majestic wooden Ark was reassembled and installed in Temple Chaverim's sanctuary.
New doors were installed on the Ark, and the Ner Tamid which hung in the Jamacia synagogue was attached to the Ark itself. Temple Chaverim had a quote from the Midrash on Psalms placed above the Ark doors. It says Oseh Kal Yisrael Chaverim, “making all Israel friends.” This saying is from the Midrash on Psalms 122. It says that when all Israel gathers as friends in the earthly Jerusalem below, the Divine Presence enters the heavenly Jerusalem above. Our vision at Temple Chaverim is to get closer and closer to that vision of a heavenly Jerusalem by uniting together as friends in community. The photo seen here of our ark was taken by photographer, Lee Weissman © 2005.
Temple Chaverim Vision Statement
Temple Chaverim is a dynamic Reform Jewish congregation dedicated to providing a welcoming, comfortable environment for the religious, educational and communal needs of our congregants. Temple Chaverim fosters a deeper connection to God, our heritage, Israel, and a cohesive community of Chaverim, friends.
We provide an environment that is spiritually uplifting, engaging and thought provoking, encouraging an appreciation for God, Torah, and Jewish tradition.
We offer continuous study of the wisdom, history, and ritual of Judaism for children and adults, thereby instilling strong Jewish values and identity in our community, synagogue, and Jewish homes.
Our members are connected to each other and the Jewish community through spiritual and social activities, and deeds of caring, compassion, and philanthropy.
Through involvement with Temple Chaverim, our members will find Judaism to be an exciting, relevant, and fulfilling part of their lives, thus strengthening and ensuring our future.