Thursday, March 12, 2015

How Did Great Neck, NY, Become a Jewish Orthodox Center?

When my family moved to Great Neck in 1962, the Jewish community in Great Neck was almost totally secular. There were two Reform "temples," a large affluent Conservative one and a very small, poor Orthodox Synagogue led by Rabbi Efraim Wolf. Within a couple of decades, it had metamorphosed into one of the largest and most vibrant Modern Orthodox centers in the world offering a variety of Orthodox synagogues, kosher supermarkets and an enviable choice of kosher restaurants.

As I've written about many times before, as a newly arrived teenager in Great Neck, my parents pushed me into the Synagogue's Teen Club, as it was called, which was also a charter member/chapter of NCSY. That changed my life and brought me to Torah Judaism, but what changed Great Neck?

I'm still best friend with my best friend of the time who took the spiritual journey/life change along with me. We discussed it a few days ago. We agree that Rabbi Wolf was the key player in this by being so unbelievably welcoming to all. For instance, my friend's parents were not members, but she was as welcomed as I was to the youth activities.

As we're both daughters of CPA's we hit on an economic factor in the synagogue's expansion and influence.

Why did my parents end up in an Orthodox shul, after a very satisfied decade plus membership in the Conservative Oakland Jewish Center, Bayside NY? They were rejected by Great Neck's Conservative Temple Israel, which had all the members its sanctuary could handle. Not only wasn't it welcoming of new Jewish families to Great Neck, it rejected us.  Rabbi Wolf and the Great Neck Synagogue picked up the slack, and people like us felt and were fully accepted, even though my parents did not observe the Sabbath, even though our kitchen was traif (not kosher.)

Thank G-d, thank Rabbi Wolf and thanks to the closed door of Temple Israel!


Schvach said...

Not to commit leshon hara, but this sounds like vintage Conservative Movement. Of course, to day, the Conservative Movement of Judaism is paying the price.

Batya Medad said...

I don't know if it happened everywhere. Oakland Jewish Center, Bayside,NY died because members moved and died and young Jewish families did not move into the neighborhood looking for Conservative. They either wanted Orthodox and joined Young Israel of Windsorpark or didn't want anything.