Changing of the guard at Riverhead’s Temple Israel

06/26/2014 12:00 PM |
After seven years, Rabbi Bill Siemers will lead his last service at Temple Israel in Riverhead this Saturday before packing up and moving his family to Maine next week. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

After seven years, Rabbi Bill Siemers will lead his last service at Temple Israel in Riverhead this Saturday before packing up and moving his family to Maine next week. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Moving around is nothing new to Rabbi Bill Siemers, who’s visited 49 of 50 states in the nation — he’s saving Hawaii for retirement, he says — and grew up on a U.S. Army base in California.

With that in mind, it’s time for him to move on to his next stop, and the 49th state he visited in his 45 years: Maine. 

After seven years, the rabbi at Temple Israel will be leading his final service at the Riverhead synagogue Saturday before he leaves to serve as head rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor.

“When we talk about moving to Bangor, people say two things,” he said, setting up a joke. “They say we hope you have your long johns, and there’s lots of good lobster there. The first one is relevant to us.”

The punch line — for those unaware — is that shellfish are not kosher.

Rabbi Siemers, who spent 20 years in Philadelphia before landing in Riverhead, said that while his time on the North Fork has been great, the time is right to move on. If he stayed, both of his children would enter new schools in September. His daughter, Rebecca, would move on to Pulaski Street, and his son, Daniel, would enter kindergarten.

“It was just a good time,” he said. “My daughter is transitioning from fourth grade to fifth grade. We finished our building [addition] campaign here. I’ve enjoyed my time here very much. Riverhead is a very special community. It was just time to try something different.”

Rabbi Siemers has served with the Riverhead Clergy Council, Peconic Bay Medical Center and the East End Jewish Community Council. In addition to serving a congregation in Bangor more than twice the size of Temple Israel — 200 families compared to about 70 in Riverhead — Rabbi Siemers will teach as an adjunct professor at the University of Maine, which is located a short drive away in Orono.

“We’re sad to see him leave,” said longtime congregant Richard Israel. “He did fulfill our needs — conducting services and the like, offering his pastoral skills. And outreach — letting people understand we do exist, that we’re here for them. He was good at all of those.”

Stepping up after Rabbi Siemers — not “replacing” him, Mr. Israel is sure to point out — is Rabbi Michael Roscoe, coming to Riverhead from Houston.

Rabbi Roscoe has served as associate director of The L’Chaim Center for the past three years, “a nontraditional synagogue” that doesn’t have a physical building. It’s what he calls a different model, where members can meet in another house of worship, bookstore, or coffee shop.

But he’s served as head rabbi at congregations similar in size to Temple Israel, he said — an experience that will allow him to transition rather smoothly into the community.

Rabbi Roscoe, 55, has two sons — one is a neuroscience student and the other is a drummer in an alternative rock band. Born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, he’s spent most of his career on the south shore of Lake Michigan. He starts at Temple Israel Aug. 1.

“There won’t be much of an adjustment having no big staff — something someone might have to handle if they are coming from a larger congregation,” he said. “This way I’ll be able to learn more about the congregation, and they’ll be able to learn more about me.”

jpinciaro@timesreview.com