How Temple Israel found out it’s 100 years old

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09/17/2011 4:33 PM |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Greenport resident Richard Israel, right, with his son, Herbert, outside Temple Israel of Riverhead on Saturday. The father and son and other volunteers renovated the temple this summer in time for their temple's centennial anniversary.

Members of Temple Israel of Riverhead didn’t expect to be honoring a big anniversary this year.

In fact, it took organizing a big raffle to make its members aware of just how old their organization was.

Jaime Siegel, vice president of the temple’s board of trustees, said that when he was planning the January fundraising event, he had to submit proof of incorporation to the New York State Gaming and Wagering Board.

“When we found our certificate of incorporation, it said ‘1911,’” Mr. Siegel said.

Mr. Siegel has seen been planning the temple’s centennial anniversary, which took place on Saturday.

Temple Israel of Riverhead, located at the intersection of Northville Turnpike at Ostrander Avenue, serves as a religious center for the conservative Jewish community on the East End. The temple was incorporated in 1911 as the “Brotherhood of Jews of Riverhead” by 12 members of the Riverhead Jewish community.

In 1924, the congregation built its first synagogue — a one-room building with a wooden floor, pews and a stucco exterior — on Northville Turnpike and hired its first rabbi in 1938. During the mid-1940s, the congregation changed its name to the Temple Israel of Riverhead and moved to its current location.

State Sen. Ken LaValle, along with state Assemblyman Dan Losquadro, county Legislator Ed Romaine and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, attended the special services Saturday to congratulate temple leaders and those who worship there.

“The Town of Riverhead is mostly a Christian community, so for a Jewish community to have existed for 100 years is awesome,” Mr. LaValle said outside the temple.

Rabbi William Siemers said during the services that preparing for the temple’s centennial anniversary provided a great opportunity to learn about the congregation’s past.

“To hear the voices of the community that was here long before many of us were here, to get a sense of the historic Jewish community of the East End, is a great honor for the community,” he said.

Not only did members rejoice in their temple’s 100-year birthday, they also enjoyed Saturday’s services in a newly renovated sanctuary.

When the temple’s air conditioning unit broke last year, Richard Israel, the temple’s treasure and owner of Richmond Reality in Riverhead, and his son, Herbert, planned to install a new one in June.

“But once we started, we found other things needed to be fixed,” said Herbert Israel, who works as a project manager for his father’s development company, Diamond Builders. “I spent the majority of my summer working here. There is a sense of pride and we were able to get it done so quickly because we had a deadline for our 100th year.”

The renovation project was completed in about four months, which involved replacing the temple’s 60-year-old electrical wiring, adding new carpeting, painting and refurbishing the pews and stain glass windows.

The next phase will involve making the temple more handicapped accessible.

For more information about Temple Israel of Riverhead, visit templeisraelriverhead.org.

jennifer@northshoresun.com