The following is an excerpt from a Temple Avodah publication produced at the time of the building of the current sanctuary. It was selected for this web site in celebration of the Temple's 50th Year and the planning process for its next major building step.
You are about to read an incredible story. It is a true account ... simple in telling ... complex in the making. Man's faith in God and his fellowman often leads him to perform the "impossible".
The minds and concerted efforts of a few people can, with dedicated purpose, make mountains move. The phenomenon of building a Temple, with unskilled hands ... and limited funds ... was only made possible by a determination which knew no bounds.
To them, having expended this work with much sweat and great devotion towards a labor of love, this is indeed a living miracle. We are sure you will agree.
The proud joy of accomplishment and unparalleled community spirit, should serve as an inspiration to those who follow in their footsteps. This is their story.
"THE REWARD OF A THING WELL DONE, IS TO HAVE DONE IT" Ralph Waldo Emerson
The history of Temple Avodah. The Reform Jewish Temple in Oceanside, New York.
How it began...
The need for a Reform Jewish Temple was evident. To meet the challenge, an initial group of fifteen families met to discuss the tremendous tasks involved. They decided to go forward, despite the enormity of problems.
On September 3, 1952 more than 50 families attended a community meeting, and unanimously passed a resolution to create a Temple.
The immediate business at hand, was to find adequate space for the religious school, and a place to hold services for the Sabbath and the High Holiday Days.
A local nursery school served as temporary quarters for the religious school. An Oceanside firehouse became the setting for our services. The firemen obligingly removed their equipment to provide additional seating for the High Holidays, and if God did not hear our prayers, he must certainly have heard the sirens.
By the end of Yom Kippur, seventy-five families had become members of Avodah.
A strange name you say? Not so, when the meaning is compared with the deeds. Avodah means: devotion, also service, fellowship and prayer. For us, it was a perfect choice.
A Bold Venture ...
After ten months, the congregation had grown to one hundred and twenty families. The religious school expanded far beyond its physical capacity.
The nucleus of a splendid Jewish congregation had coalesced and larger more suitable quarters were needed for healthy growth.
The Temple House Committee decided on a very large plot as a necessary prerequisite. To find such a place in our crowded town took a great deal of looking around. Members explored every inch of Oceanside looking for this veritable needle in a haystack. Finally, four and a half acres of beautifully landscaped property, centrally located, complete with a ten room building and large carriage house was discovered. Negotiations for this property began immediately. Our members, consulted with each other on all pertinent details of the undertaking. On August 19, 1953, title was obtained in the name of Temple Avodah. Another memorable day!
The ten room, three story house, which was to become our Religious School building and community house, was in dire need of painting. A general appeal to the membership brought eighty-five men and women, with some children, to the building on the following Sunday. It became a "Paint Party". In one day, this large structure was lovingly scraped, patched and painted, and the faces, hands and clothes of eighty-five members bore testimony to this fact. The only time out was for coffee and sandwiches, provided by the Sisterhood.
"Professionals" could not have done a much better face lifting job.
The carriage house temporarily became the synagogue. When almost four hundred persons attended the High Holidays in 1953, it became necessary to hold services out of doors.
With the realization of the rapid growth of the congregation and the inadequacy of the carriage house as a place of worship, the members took the next step. A large Temple building had to be raised on faith and little cash.
To conserve as much of the latter as possible, the plans called for placing an addition to the carriage house, which previously measured twenty-five by thirty feet, making an overall building of seventy-five feet by thirty-five feet. The seating capacity would be four hundred persons. Ten thousand dollars was the limit placed on the Building Committee. This would not even erect a modest home, much less a Synagogue.
Salesmen, clerks, businessmen from every walk of life, even doctors, dentists, lawyers, suddenly were transformed into carpenters, roofers, electricians, laborers, foremen, etc.
These men volunteered to erect the Temple. Just imagine yourself, engaged in a normal, sedentary occupation, suddenly finding a hammer or a saw in your hands and a building to be built. Not even for yourself alone, but for your neighbor and his neighbor. Could you do it? ... Would you do it? ...
AVODAH DID IT!
Leisure time became a thing of the past for these men and women. Meetings were held at all hours. Work was done on Sundays and in the evenings.
Materials were begged, borrowed and donated. Many a nail was driven into the wrong spot. But for every imperfect thrust, countless tasks were completed with amazing precision.
As with all jobs, there had to be some leadership. This became a labor of a few, who had a working knowledge of the building and construction field. Merely by following the well formulated plans of a paid architect, and using their own common sense, the work was organized.
They neglected their families ...
Actual construction began Thanksgiving Day weekend and the entire frame was put up in those few days. It appeared to the novices that the job would be completed in another week. Little did they realize the magnitude of the work involved. Fifty to seventy-five men and women would swarm over the construction site, working, waiting for work assignments, aiding each other and even "kibitzing." A fair share of sidewalk superintendent were always present. They had a familiar chant; "It can't be done! You will never finish the job! It will collapse in a week." Their jibes only made for more zealous efforts. From the Rabbi and the President of the Congregation, down to the newest member, the cooperation was superb. Dentists whose hands are their means of a livelihood, swung hammers and spread hot thick tar on the roof.
Some Stayed away from business ... Lawyers, whose heaviest work consists of transporting a large legal brief, were sweating under the load of heavy lumber, pulling "two by fours" from place to place.
Decisions had to be made ... Salesmen, who only have to convince a prospective buyer, suddenly had to cajole an electric switch box into place, and begged each nail to find it's mark. Heads used only for figuring tax forms had to support heavy ceiling panels while some else drove the nails.
Even the youngsters pitched in ... Youngsters who accompanied their parents to the building site, soon became imbued with the spirit of the work. Even little tykes were soon begging to be of some help. Each one realized that this must be a project of great importance, since their mothers and fathers spent so much time working on the new Temple. Besides, it was lots of fun, one could get dirty and no one scolded!
But as work progressed, so did the members skills. Now the insurance man thinks nothing of rewiring his own home, the teacher can do plumbing repairs, and the interior decorator can apply exterior shingles.
All this was done in cold, bitter, winter weather. When work was completed on the outside of the building, there was less danger of frostbite.
The heating system was installed by members as was everything else. Modern lighting fixtures, modern flooring, esthetic mahogany wood paneling throughout, beautiful draperies ... all these are part of this new edifice.
Our anxiety to have services held in the new building led to the first Sabbath observance December 25, 1953, even though the Temple was incomplete. Before this, services were conducted in the community house. In order to use our new Synagogue, scaffolds had to be dismantled, temporary lights installed, tools stored away and the floor swept. But even in that "underdressed condition", to the members it was the most beautiful Temple in the world. Pride of ownership, and pride of creation, gave us an exalted feeling. Our new Torahs were reverently placed in the Ark and the Rabbi asked the blessing of God for the already blessed Temple.
The choir, consisting entirely of volunteers, sang "deeply-moving" music.
Our choir always adds to the beauty and pleasure of the services. That night they transcended the heights of religious feeling.
THE KIDDUSH ...
From that evening on, until the completion of the building and the formal dedication, each Friday observance was held amidst bare columns. The transformation from workshop to worship was made each week. The extra duty was carried out because the members wanted it that way. It somehow made the work easier.
During the early months of 1954, labor continued, the finishing touches took a long time. A large mural created by two of our members was painted on the rear wall of the stage, surrounding the Ark. The moldings were chosen and applied, and white ceiling tiles were set in place. The work reached a feverish pitch as the final day approached. April 25, 1954 had been set as the Dedication Day. The volunteered labor of the members had saved approximately $15,000 on the cost of erecting the building.
The most impressive religious ceremony of Temple Avodah's short existence was the Dedication Service with hundreds of people in attendance. Rabbi Daniel Davis, Rabbi Elihu Kasten, and Rabbi Harold Saperstein took part in the formal service. Rabbi Jacob Rudin delivered the Dedicatory Address. Rabbi Ozer conducted the Evening Service. Messages poured in from all parts of the country. A solemn responsibility was laid before the men and women present that night, as they formally took up the banner of Judaism.
The Columbia Firehouse in Oceanside...Our home for one stimulating and exciting year
"On September 15, 1954, Oceanside was distinguished when Betty Robbins (Mrs. Sheldon Robbins) became the world's first woman cantor at services held at Temple Avodah."
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3050 Oceanside Road, Oceanside, NY 11572 phone: 516-766-6809 fax: 516-766-5092 email us
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