In a ceremony that included walking two Torahs from separate synagogues through the streets of Bellmore, the Bellmore Jewish Center officially welcomed and absorbed the Beth-El congregation from Massapequa into its membership as it changed its name to Congregation Beth Ohr. Congregation Beth Ohr is located at 2550 Centre Avenue.
The Tale of Two Torahs: the Congregation Beth-El of Massapqua, held by congregation president Marc Miller, left, and the Bellmore Jewish Center Torah, held by congregation president Tina Baron
Rabbi Dahlia Bernstein, presiding over the new congregation, told them the new name would symbolize a lighthouse. “We name this new congregation Beth Ohr, or … House of Light! We are bringing new light into our community, to provide a central focus; we will act as a ‘lighthouse’ to reach out across to those who seek our teachings of open-mindedness and welcoming spirit.”
She added that by combining two lit candles, one for each temple, “they will join together to create an even brighter flame!”
Fran Gusoff, a Bellmore Jewish Center congregant, said after the ceremony, “This is a great day. It is bringing in more people to our congregation, and for that we thank the rabbi in helping to grow the congregation.”
Rabbi Bernstein brings new light to the Bellmore Jewish community with this merger
NEED FOR CONSOLIDATION
Tina Baron, president of the new Congregation Beth Ohr, told Your NewsMag that Congregation Beth-El of Massapequa approached the Bellmore Jewish Center in February 2015 to discuss the possibility of a merger between the two congregations. “Later, in June, after having discussed similar possibilities with other temples in the area, they approached us again and more serious discussions ensued, because they found there were cultural similarities” between the two temples.
Both temples are conservative congregations, in which there is rejoice in a welcoming and open-minded spirit, and in which women can serve as rabbis, for example, and other official capacities.
Marc Miller, president of Congregation Beth-El in Massapequa, explained that demographics played a large role in Beth-El seeking partnerships outside of Massapequa. “Young people are leaving Long Island and are not being replaced by those of similar faith,” he said. He added that interfaith marriages were also impacting both Jewish and Christian faiths, all factors of which have led to a decline in the numbers of congregants within their temple.
He noted that 11 years ago a congregation from Lindenhurst joined with their congregation because of similar demographic challenges.
He concluded that Bellmore-Merrick communities have very large and established Jewish communities, and the support is welcomed.
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Remarked Felix Berman, a former Bellmore Jewish Centre congregant since 1967: “The demographics are indeed changing, so the merger certainly meets the needs of both congregations. It will make us a stronger community.”
MOOD IS STRONG, REFLECTIVE
The mood during lunch after the official ceremony was generally upbeat and positive, from both congregations. Ira Levy of Bellmore said “It is a joyous coming together of two congregations, the result of which will be a bigger, brighter, more spirited community of worshipers. The new congregation will be made up of people who will share their lifestyles.”
Harold Lefkowitz, chairman of merger committee, Massapequa, said “This is fantastic! We are bringing together two vibrant communities, in which there is generous support for one another.
Still, for some, the move was not without strong reflection.
Breena Nachbar of Massapequa, the youngest congregant, told Your NewsMag “It is sad, because I have gone to the Massapequa temple since I am 4 days old, and I am 14 now.” Her mother Lorraine added, “It’s bittersweet. I’ve been going to that temple for 53 years, so it is tough to say goodbye. But it is also a happy occasion that we are joining with a supportive and celebratory congregation that welcomes us.”
State Senator Michael Venditto congratulates both congregations in joining in the merger. “I represent both congregations, and this is a very celebratory time for both to be joining together,” he said
Overall, perhaps Massapequa congregant Mark Finkelman spoke for the congregation best. “I’m very happy with the move. Most everyone in the Bellmore congregation has become a friend now, this move has been coming for a while. People from Lindenhurst, who merged with our congregation 11 years ago, are also coming.”