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Temple Shalom Celebrates First Anniversary

Reform temple with traditional flair pioneers new model for synagogues

In some respects, Temple Shalom in Woodbury is more traditional than most reform synagogues. Weekly Shabbat services contain just as much Hebrew as English, if not more, and Cantor Stephen Stein, who spent 36 years as a cantor in a conservative synagogue, chants with classic style and intonation. But surprisingly, no one could accuse the synagogue of being anything less than thoroughly modern; not only is Temple Shalom pioneering an innovative pay-as-you go model for its members, virtually all communication is done by email. Furthermore, there are plans in the works to institute a webcast service, so all those who can’t be at The Historical Chapel in body can still be a part of the congregation, with a little assist from the Internet.

It’s also a family affair. Cantor Stephen Stein and Rabbi Alan Stein are a Cantor/Rabbi father-son team, the only one in the New York area and likely beyond. In addition, members from different generations of the Stein family all pitch in at Temple Shalom, making the synagogue a multi-generational melding of old and new.

While the synagogue is celebrating its first anniversary this month, Rabbi Stein said the idea of opening a synagogue with his father was something he had considered for a long time. “It was always on my mind,” said the rabbi, yet for a long time, both father and son had other commitments; Rabbi Stein, also a lawyer, had his own law practice to consider. However, over a year ago things fell into place when the rabbi finished his service at Temple Sinai in Massapequa, while the Cantor had concluded his at Temple Beth Torah in Melville. If they were ever going to do it, this was the time. “It was as if the stars almost aligned,” the rabbi said.

Still, barring a convenient multi-million dollar donation to buy a building on Jericho Turnpike, the nascent synagogue needed a place to congregate. Well aware that many Jewish congregations have started in churches, Rabbi Stein approached several, looking to find a church with the right space and availability. At first, it was tough going; some of the best venues were already utilized by other groups, and not all churches were as conducive to holding Jewish services.

A few months into the building search, Rabbi Stein drove past The Historical Chapel on Jericho Turnpike, a 160-year old chapel that had housed the Woodbury Methodist Church until 1959. Seeing the restored and renovated building, with its beautiful hand-painted ceilings and original pews, and Rabbi Stein knew that Temple Shalom had found its sanctuary; while the building is used for interdenominational weddings, no congregation was using the building for regular services.

Even with a venue picked, there was still the question of what kind of synagogue Temple Shalom wanted to be. The first answer was an affordable one. “What we realized is that a lot of the families were leaving various synagogues because of cost factors,” said Rabbi Stein, going on to say later on that it shouldn’t cost a family “an arm and a leg” to belong to a synagogue. Families were either rejecting religious education, hiring private Hebrew school tutors, or going to Chabad, a Chasidic movement. Stein was clear that he thinks that Chabad is a wonderful program, but it is orthodox; some Jews from reform or conservative backgrounds were not necessarily comfortable in a Chabad setting.

So the Rabbi/Cantor duo decided to take some inspiration from Chabad, particularly the pay-as-you-go financial model, but create a synagogue more geared toward reform and conservative Jews. The tagline that Temple Shalom uses is “Reform with a traditional flair,” indicating that while they are a reform synagogue, they still honor the old traditions that appeal to many conservative Jews.

“Some congregations do ‘Judaism Light’; this is not it,” said Rabbi Stein. The goal is to have a beautiful, meaningful service with prayer in both English and Hebrew, where everyone can feel welcome. While a higher percentage of services are in Hebrew than some reform Jews may be familiar with, prayer sheets with the prayers and songs transliterated into English are always available; singing along is strongly encouraged, the better to make for a lively service. This is a synagogue where the rabbi even sings along with the cantor.

Instead of paying several thousand dollars for membership and building fees, Temple Shalom congregants pay $360 (plus High Holy Days tickets), and pay separately for lifecycle events as they come up. Rabbi Stein believes this is an improvement over the current synagogue model, and one he hopes to see gain in popularity.

“I think in the future, this model may change the manner in which congregations operate,” said the rabbi.

In addition to holding weekly Friday night and occasional Bar/Bat Mitzvah, wedding and other lifecycle services, Temple Shalom offers Hebrew school education. Students meet one day a week at Temple Shalom’s Plainview office (which doubles as Rabbi Stein’s law office), where certified teachers instruct them in Hebrew language and conversation, bible studies, ethics, culture and holiday studies. During the first year, 33 children attended the school; that number is expected to grow in 2012-13, especially with the forthcoming addition of first- and second-grade classes to encourage early involvement in Jewish culture.

Also, new next year at the Hebrew school will be the Mitzvah project, something all Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidates will have to do to give back to their local communities before their big day. The idea is to get the children invested in tikkun olam, healing the world, something the synagogue takes very seriously. Despite only being in existence for a year, Temple Shalom has already held a Hanukkah in July toy drive, a coat drive, and a food drive, all to benefit the needy. Also important is teaching about the Holocaust in the hopes that it will never happen again: for the synagogue’s first Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, survivor Werner Reich, 84, was on hand to share his experiences and insights with the Hebrew school children. It was an experience none are likely to forget any time soon.

Though the synagogue is currently celebrating its first anniversary, many congregants are busy with summer camp and other summer plans, so a formal party will likely be held in early September. Meanwhile, those interested in joining Temple Shalom can call the temple at 364-4900 or email the rabbi at

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Those who want to find out what “reform with a traditional flair” means in practice are invited to come down for Shabbat services on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. at The Historical Chapel, located at 8205 Jericho Turnpike.

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