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Temple Isaiah

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Rabbi Paul D. Sidlofsky. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

A Canadian-born rabbi with an extensive background in religious education and youth outreach is the new spiritual leader at Temple Isaiah, the Reform Jewish congregation in Stony Brook. Paul D. Sidlofsky comes to Long Island from Temple of Israel in Wilmington, North Carolina, the oldest Jewish congregation in that state. His worldview has been enhanced by the experience of residing in Canada, England, Israel and the United States.

Rabbi Sidlofsky says he found his calling early in life while attending a summer camp affiliated with the North American Reform movement. He said he met rabbis there “who led services, taught Hebrew and talked about being Jewish, but they also wore sneakers, played sports and told jokes. They were not only people to be admired, but role models to whom I could relate.”

Following graduation with honors from the University of Toronto, Sidlofsky pursued graduate studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as part of his rabbinical course. He was ordained in 1988 after completing training at Leo Baeck College in London and received a master’s in Jewish education from the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. Subsequently he earned a master’s in educational administration and a doctor of religious Jewish education.

“To me, a major role of the rabbi is to be a teacher,” Sidlofsky said. “This is central to my work and affects all aspects of it. I encourage congregants to pursue lifelong Jewish education. Informal interactions, counseling and sermons all provide teaching and learning opportunities.” As the “Rappin’ Rabbi” he likes to make his teaching fun, creating raps that give a unique spin to holy days, B’nai Mitzvah, and even the Torah. 

In his prior position in Wilmington, as well as in previous congregations, the rabbi was an active participant in community and interfaith events, and he looks forward to those interactions on Long Island. One community outreach event he instituted, an Invite Your Neighbor service to welcome and inform non-Jewish members of the community about the temple and Judaism, was a success he hopes to replicate at Temple Isaiah.

Teamwork between clergy in a synagogue is crucial to creating a welcoming vibe. Rabbi and cantor must work together closely.

“Often,” said Cantor Marcey Wagner, “I spend more time with my rabbinic partner than with my spouse! That’s why I am so pleased with the choice of Rabbi Sidlofsky. He’s the kind of person I can partner with in a meaningful way. Together we’ll create the community environment here at Temple Isaiah that the congregation is thirsting for,” adding that she likes that he is open to new ideas, yet has a healthy respect for tradition as well. “When the rabbi/cantor relationship thrives, the congregation can feel it and the institution becomes stronger and healthier for it.” 

Temple President Phyllis Sterne concurs that Temple Isaiah is on the right path with its new clergy team. “I look forward to growing our congregation and having it see good times and good health in the years ahead. I’m confident that Rabbi Sidlofsky will lead us into a bright future. We welcome not only the rabbi to our Temple family, but also his lovely and talented wife, Wendy, and caring and enthusiastic teenage son, Ben. Both will add immeasurably to our community.”

For information about Temple Isaiah, located at 1404 Stony Brook Road in Stony Brook, call the temple office at 631-751-8518 or visit www.tisbny.org

From left, volunteers Alexandra, Ilene, Emily and Brian Horan; Sela Megibow; Cantor Marcey Wagner; Paula Balaban; and Adam Morotto. Photo from Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook established a new tradition this year, gathering a multi-generational group of congregants to cook up soup and vegetarian chili for people in need of support.

Cantor Marcey Wagner envisioned the community service event to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and enlisted Social Action Committee Chairperson Iris Schiff to help with the details.

From left, Julia Megibow, Hannah Kitt (seated), Lana Megibow, Abby Fenton, Hazel and Dasi Cash Photo from Donna Newman

The morning of Jan. 15 began with a reading of the story “As Good as Anybody” — written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon — about the friendship that formed between civil rights leader King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The two men faced similar challenges growing up and shared a belief in the value of every human being. Heschel joined the civil rights movement and marched at King’s side in Selma in 1965.

Congregants brought fresh and canned vegetables to the synagogue and all the ingredients needed to make comfort foods. Everyone participated in the effort. After the chopping and mincing and blending, while the Instant Pots cooked, the children created greeting cards and small challahs to be delivered with the containers of food. The challah prep was under the tutelage of consummate baker Linda Jonas and the greeting cards were facilitated by artist Deborah Fisher.

The freezer is now stocked with portions of soup and chili to be delivered to the homebound, mourners and people who are ailing. They will also be available to families visiting the temple’s food pantry.

Temple Isaiah is located at 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook. For more information, please call 631-751-8518.

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Rabbi Stephen Karol, Rabbi Sharon Sobel and Rabbi Adam Fisher celebrate. Photo from Iris Schiff

In 1965, a small group of families placed a notice in The Village Times Herald to encourage interested residents to join the new Reform Jewish Congregation. Two years later, the congregation transitioned from working out of the Setauket Neighborhood House to working at its new building, Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.

Fifty years later, the building, its workers and congregants celebrated the Temple’s 50th from Friday Oct. 23 to Sunday Oct. 25. The festivities started with a potluck dinner at sundown as well as a special service. Alan Goodis served as the entertainment during the celebration. The weekend also included a dessert reception and a Golden Gala.

But the celebration isn’t only about celebrating another year older but also about celebrating the Temple’s founders, taking a stroll down memory lane and acknowledging the Temple beyond the celebration for the Temple’s 50th year.

“It’s really about what we do all year long and how we behave,” Rabbi Sharon Sobel said about the Temple.

In the past 50 years, the Temple established a food pantry had food and blood drives and helped give back to the community with events like Mitzvah Day, which former Board of Trustees President Iris Schiff described as a day where members of the Temple do a good deed for members of the community.

In the past, congregates and individuals who work at the Temple helped build a kitchen on the Shinnecock Reservation according to Schiff. Schiff also said the Temple held a special Mitzvah Day for the adults with disabilities who visit the Temple once or twice a week to help organize the food pantry, file documents, polish areas of the Temple’s sanctuary. According to Schiff these individuals are called “interns” at the Temple.

Sobel, who has served as the Temple’s rabbi since last year, made the suggestion to hold a Mitzvah Day in honor of their “interns.” Not only do they help the Temple, but also some of these interns gained enough experience helping the institution that they have acquired stable jobs themselves.

According to Schiff, who joined the Temple in 1975, the day was a special moment for the parents of these “interns.”

“Their parents were crying because…it was the first time ever…their children were honored for being terrific and for helping,” Schiff said. “They had never been acknowledged before because they are people with disabilities.”

The “interns” and the individuals at the Shinnecock Reservation aren’t the only people the Temple helped or intend to help on the Island. Mitzvah day is an annual event for the Temple. This year, the Temple held its 15th Mitzvah Day on Sunday, May 17. Next year, the Temple is holding the event on May 16. Schiff also added that people in the community who are not necessarily part of the Temple are also recognizing the Temple as an important part of the community. Several business donated money to the Temple in celebration of its 50th year — the money, as well as other donations and money acquired from the membership fee, helps the Temple stay afloat.

Schiff mentioned there’s been a drop in church attendance regardless of the religion. Sobel added that currently the Temple has 330 units — families, couples and singles — who are members of the Temple. She added that former members come back for special events like the Temple’s anniversaries among other events. Despite this, members of the Temple remain excited and pleased about their accomplishments.

“We’re excited [for the 50th anniversary celebration] because we feel proud of what the Temple has done all through the years and what it represents in the community,” Sobel said.

Regardless of attendance and the changes in rabbis in the past 50 years, Schiff added that the Temple has remained the same.

“What hasn’t changed is this organization. We have congregants who are genuine. They come here with really good caring hearts,” Schiff said. “To me that is what religion should really be about — doing unto others. If everybody lived by that golden rule, this [world] would be a wonderful place.”

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