History of our legacy congregations: Temple Judea, The Suburban Temple, And Temple Emanu-El
The 1950s were an awesome period for the Jewish communities on the southeast shores of Nassau County. There was a great influx of Jewish folk from Brooklyn, The Bronx and other areas of New York City. Most of the newcomers came from orthodox and conservative backgrounds. Many of them discovered that they preferred something different….and established Reform congregations.
In Wantagh and Massapequa, The Suburban Temple and The Massapequa Jewish Center (changed to Temple Judea in 1970) were created. Their histories were remarkably alike….
Both temples experienced great growth in the early years. Both Temples had a series of part-time rabbis. In 1958 Rabbi Harold Krantzler and in 1962 Rabbi Robert Raab were installed as the full-time religious leaders of Temple Judea and The Suburban Temple, respectively. At the time of transition, Rabbi Michael Kramer and Rabbi Jeffrey Gale were the full time religious leaders.
Both temples started building their facilities with great caution, but as the population of the towns grew so did membership and the buildings increased in size. Both temples held High Holy Day Services in tents during their construction periods. Both temples had policies that discouraged the wearing of a tallit or a yarmulke in the Sanctuary. Education and youth were always primary concerns for both Temples. The Religious Schools and Youth Groups were amongst the best on Long Island.
There was always something for everyone who joined the Temples….whether for religious purposes or social reasons.
Brotherhood and Sisterhood were extremely active in fundraising and created exciting, exhilarating, and fun-filled events. Over the years, both Temples put on highly professional and extremely successful plays. “The King and I”, “Guys and Dolls”, “Pajama Game”, “Carousel”, “A Majority of One” and “Music Man” are among the most memorable presentations.
During the Seven Day War and the Yom Kippur War, special services were called. A huge turnout from the entire community resulted in a voluntary outpouring of funds to help support Israel. Similar reactions occurred when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, when Dr. Martin Luther King died, and when the Israeli athletes were massacred at the Olympics. Within hours, the Temples were filled to the point of bursting. Congregants always found a home at their respective Temples in times of need.
Music has always been a special delight at both Temples. Judea had Cantor Robert Applestone from 1959 to 1994. His rich voice charmed the congregation and was supported regularly by the Judea Adult Choir. Cantor Walter Lewis served Suburban for 18 years. Under his able tutelage, the Youth Choir as well as the Adult Choir were established.
In recent years, it became obvious that the Jewish population was decreasing in Nassau County. With seven synagogues in the area, it became more and more difficult to maintain a successful operation. The leadership of The Suburban Temple and Temple Judea met, “hit it off”, and came to realize that it was in the best interest of the Jewish community to combine the two Temples and create a stronger Jewish presence in the area.
And so a new temple was formed….TEMPLE B’NAI TORAH…..a blending of the best of both worlds…Temple Judea and The Suburban Temple.
MEANWHILE….in East Meadow……….
Temple Emanu-El’s history begins on Thanksgiving Eve, November 23, 1950.
The 6:09 PM train which departed from Penn Station to Hempstead was filled with hundreds of commuters eagerly wanting to walk through the doors of their homes and begin a long holiday weekend. One of the passengers was Emanuel Frankfort, an East Meadow resident who had recently purchased a home on Argyle Road. Just west of Jamaica Station in Richmond Hill the train slowed for a light. When the engineer tried to start again he found the train’s brakes had locked. At 6:32 PM a Babylon-bound train raced its passengers homeward along the same track and with a boom and a sudden flash, knifed into and under the rear car of the stalled train. The impact of the crash had virtually welded the two cars into one. Emanuel Frankfort, at age 47, was among the 79 people killed. Another 334 persons were injured. It was and remains the worst accident in the history of the Long Island Rail Road.
In a scene that has been repeated countless times over the past 5,000 years, grieving friends and neighbors gathered to mourn the tragic death of Emanuel Frankfort. A minyan was organized during the Shiva period in the Frankfort home. Those assembled quickly came to the realization that a Temple was needed so that the Jewish faith could find its spiritual expression in a permanent home. The members of that minyan left the Argyle Road home with a vision and a dream that quickly turned into an obsession. The congregation was established shortly thereafter, and Joseph Greenberg was appointed its first president. The first religious services were held in the home of one of the congregants. Within four months of Emmanuel Frankfort’s death, on February 9, 1951, the first service of the Reformed Jewish Congregation of East Meadow was held in the Exempt Fireman’s Benevolent Hall located on Maple Avenue near Front Street. A visiting Cantor from Brooklyn, Harold Wachter, conducted the services. The congregation consisted of approximately 40 families.
A five-acre estate on Merrick Avenue, which contained a large house, garage, and barn, was identified as an ideal location for the Congregation to put down its roots in the community. On Saturday evening, September 12, 1953, as the Congregation welcomed its new Cantor, Lawrence Harwood, and officially dedicated its new land, incoming President Leon Alpern dedicated himself to the erection of a new Temple on the site. On November 30, 1954 the Congregation approved the construction of a building to house an auditorium with seating for 900, a kitchen, two offices, and six classrooms. On March 20, 1955, a groundbreaking ceremony for the new building was held. On September 10, 1955 the new building was dedicated in front of a standing-room-only crowd of congregants. That fall, the first Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Services were held in the new Temple. In the Spring of 1961 construction of Sanctuary began with the expectation of completion by the Fall. However, problems persisted and the Sanctuary could not be occupied until the Spring of 1962. The circular sanctuary was and still is a subject of discussion. At the time of its construction congregants questioned the colors of the windows. According to the construction notes, eight colors were selected with blues and greens predominant. The exact color arrangement was not left to chance but to “… provide a spiritual effect that would be pleasing to eye, both from inside the chapel and from the outside.”
In 2016, it was determined that, due to declining membership and a building that was deteriorating, Temple Emanu-El of East Meadow could no longer remain a viable entity. The search began to determine if there was another Temple family that would be a good match, After an arduous search, Tempel Emanu-El found Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh. Amidst many tears, but bravely looking forward to the future, on June 10th of 2018 the remaining families of Temple Emanu-El of East Meadow gathered up their Torahs, and marched to their new home on Jerusalem Avenue in Wantagh.