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Temple Isaiah Stony Brook

By Donna Newman

Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook invites the community to an Authors Roundtable on Saturday afternoon, October 28, at 1 p.m. The event features a panel of six published authors from the congregation who will speak about their books and answer questions. Rabbi Joshua Gray will be the moderator. A reception is planned afterward where attendees may mingle, enjoy refreshments, and purchase books.

It is said that after the Romans conquered their homeland in 70 CE and destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem, Judaism transformed from a religion of temples, priests, and sacrifices to one that emphasized reverence to scripture, its associated symbols, and rituals, and became The People of the Book. That appellation was later also applied to followers of Islam and Christianity, the other Abrahamic religions, as all three are rooted in — and connected by — the belief that Abraham was their first prophet.

Ancient scripture’s value and importance fostered a foundation for the written word and it’s not surprising that books are a natural extension for adherents of the three religions.     

Carole-Ann Gordon is a book-enthusiast who founded the temple’s monthly Book Group more than two decades ago. She was its first facilitator and is now its current facilitator, following a long interim of service by Anita Gaffan. Aware of the many authors in the congregation, and desiring to celebrate their creativity, she started thinking.

“It occurred to me that we’ve never given the authors in our congregation an opportunity to share their talents,” said Gordon. “I thought it would make an interesting and entertaining afternoon. Rabbi Josh agreed as soon as I mentioned it — and I was delighted when he volunteered to be the moderator.”

She enlisted the input of one of the congregant authors to plan the event.

“Carole-Ann approached me with her Authors Roundtable idea,” said novelist Gary Kamen, who had similar thoughts. “We merged our concepts and created a format that allows each author a brief presentation time, followed by a Q&A and refreshments. Each of the authors will donate a portion of their book sales to the temple.” 

Participating authors are Temple Isaiah’s two Rabbis Emeriti:  Adam Fisher (liturgy, stories, and poetry) and Stephen Karol (Jewish perspectives on death and the world-to-come); Gary Kamen (Western historical fiction); Dr. Stuart Plotkin (non-fiction: dinosaurs and podiatric advice for hikers); Dr. Arnold Katz (medical text and poetry); and cancer survivor Cynthia Braun, whose memoir about her treatment is upbeat, wise, and full of resourceful advice.

“Temple Isaiah is blessed to have so many talented authors whose combined works represent incredible diversity in their subjects and styles,” said Rabbi Emeritus Stephen Karol. “It is our pleasure to share this blessing with the community.”

Free and open to all, you must preregister to attend. Please do so by email to [email protected] or telephone the temple office at 631-751-8518.

Rabbi Joshua Gray with his wife Meghan and their children Cameron and Lena. Photo by Gary Kamen

By Donna Newman

The congregation of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook launches a new direction this summer with a modern approach: Joyful Judaism — and the Temple’s search committee found the perfect spiritual leader to guide this transition. 

“We’re very excited to welcome Rabbi Joshua Gray and his family to Long Island to bring music, spirituality and joy to our lives,” said Temple President Howie Kanowitz. “Upon receipt of the unanimous approval of the search committee, the Temple board and the congregation, Rabbi Josh will serve us as both rabbi and cantor. This is his first pulpit, and we hope he’ll lead our community for a long, long time.”  

A recently ordained rabbi at 36 years of age, he brings to his rabbinate a wealth of life, work, and Jewishservice experiences that makes him uniquely qualified to speak to the inclusive Jewish spirit of today. His life journey began in the theater.

“My beginnings as a professional actor/singer opened my voice and spirit up to endless possibilities that manifest themselves in the way I approach Judaism; musically and full of ‘simcha’ (joy), acceptance andpassion,” said Rabbi Josh. “I am also very family-oriented, as I believe that the voices of children and families ina sanctuary create holiness. My amazing wife, Meghan, is my favorite cantorial soloist, with her incredible voice and spirit. Our children, Cameron (8) and Lena (3), keep us engaged with the youngest of congregants.” 

Prior work experience in Rabbi Josh’s background added an additional skill set to his already impressive resumé.

“In addition to his warmth and approachability, Rabbi Josh has a BA in Psychology from Penn State and has worked in the field of mental health, which we considered to be a bonus, especially in the stressful times in which we live,” said Marge Weiser, co-chair of the search committee.

Working with a Reform and a Conservative congregation in upstate New York, Rabbi Josh designed anddelivered a three-part course on mental health and wellness as seen through a Jewish lens.

In a cover letter sent with his resumé he wrote, “To put it simply, I am a Rabbi who tries to live the spirit of’Hineini’— Here I am!” 

His exuberance for Judaism, scholarship, pastoral care, liturgy, and teaching all ages is abundantly clear. After a time as an independent rabbi providing ritual services, lifecycle events and Jewish education, he says he is ready to be infused with the soul of a community and become a congregational rabbi.

“Every member of the search committee had the same feeling following our very first interview with Rabbi Josh,” said committee member Gary Kamen. “It felt as though it was divine intervention that brought him to us. In Yiddish there is the word  ‘bashert’ which translates in English to ‘meant to be.’ We are delighted to have found each other.”

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Approximately 30 congregants came together at Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook Dec. 18 to celebrate the synagogue’s 56-year history. Photo from Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

On Dec. 18 about 30 congregants attended an in-person event at Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook to learn about and celebrate the synagogue’s 56-year history. It was the first such event planned since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Small groups of fully vaccinated, masked and socially distanced participants rotated through four talks around the building.

“In suggesting and coordinating this program, I had several objectives in mind,” Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky said. “Giving the opportunity for members to gather safely in our building; creating an alternate Shabbat day experience that would attract members; and highlighting the rich history and tremendous resources, both human and facility, of Temple Isaiah.”

He added he is grateful the event was a resounding success and appreciates all those who came to lead and participate.

Founding members Barbara and Jerry Fine presented the temple’s origin story, which began in early 1965 when a small notice appeared in the Three Village Herald. Eli Kahn, said Fine, was the prime mover of the plan to establish a Reform Jewish congregation. He was seeking like-minded people.

“Several members of the [existing] Conservative Jewish Center were looking for a more liberal synagogue,” said Fine. His wife, Barbara, shared her view that it was definitely needed. Having grown up in an Orthodox Jewish home, she wanted to be part of a religious group that viewed females as equals, she said.

Rabbi Emeritus Stephen Karol, who displayed a photo of the sanctuary as it appeared when he joined the temple in 2006, spoke of the changes made over the years and his emotional connection to the space.

“This room is filled with objects created by members of the congregation and that adds to the soul of this sanctuary,” he said. “Only the ner tamid [eternal light] suspended before the ark [the cabinet that holds Torah scrolls] and the menorah appear in this old photo.”

The menorah, crafted by artist Joe Donnelly, has become a symbol of Temple Isaiah. The ner tamid was created by Ludwig Yehuda Wolpert, a world-renowned, German-born, Israeli metalwork designer.

Congregant gifts include a tapestry by artist Lydie Egosi; two additional pieces of wall-mounted art created by Donnelly –Holocaust Memorial and a depiction of the Ten Commandments; a marble-topped candle-lighting table built by Steve Hiller; a Torah stand constructed as an Eagle Scout project by Shawn Countess; handmade Torah covers by Deborah Fisher; and Torah binders quilted by Joan Korins.

Attendees visited the Adam D. Fisher Library, named for Temple Isaiah’s longest serving, and now, rabbi emeritus – an appropriate honor for an author of liturgy, educational books, poetry and fiction.

“We built it as a gift for him, and he gifted it right back to the congregation,” said member Carole-Anne Gordon. In retirement, Fisher has overseen and curated the library – and even built furniture for it.

“This is one of the most extensive collections of Judaica existing in a synagogue library,” said Fisher proudly, as he listed the multitude of items available.

A fourth presentation was given by long-time temple member Steve Weitzman, who told the group about the supervising organizations that oversee and assist Reform Jewish congregations, how they have changed over the years and how liturgy has evolved.

For the most part, Temple Isaiah has held services and B’nai Mitzvah virtually via Zoom or livestreaming since pandemic restrictions eased after the initial lockdown. Dec. 18 provided an afternoon of smiles for those who attended. If only life could return to a semblance of normalcy.

By Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky. Photo by Donna Newman

I like Christmas. There, I said it. This may be surprising for some people to hear from a rabbi, and it may be misinterpreted by others. But it’s true. I like the feeling of this time of year. I enjoy the songs, the lights, watching Charlie Brown and the Grinch and especially the sense of good will that exists.

I also like Hanukkah. I enjoy the gathering of family and friends, eating latkes (fried potato pancakes), lighting the Hanukkah menorah (9-branched candelabrum), playing dreidel (a spinning top game) and feeling a sense of warmth and light in the coldest, darkest time of the year.

But my enjoyment of both holidays does not mean that I see them in the same way. It does not mean that I view Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas. While I can enjoy aspects of both holidays, I am keenly aware of the need for both Christians and Jews to maintain a distinction between the two holidays, while also embracing a healthy respect for and appreciation of the practices of the other’s religion. And this begins, I am convinced, with a full understanding of what both holidays celebrate.

It is not for me to expound on the true meaning of Christmas. My Christian colleagues are much more equipped to do so. But I do know that the true religious significance of Christmas has little to do with trees and presents, songs and holiday foods. While these are lovely ways to enhance the enjoyment of a holiday, they should not replace the spiritual lessons taught.

By the same token, Hanukkah, which I am qualified to write about, is not about spinning tops, fried foods and gift giving, though these are all fun customs. It is about the story of a small group of Jews, the Maccabees, well over 2,000 years ago, winning the right to practice their religion freely, symbolized by the rededication of the holy Temple (“Hanukkah” means “dedication”). This episode has nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas, and only happens to fall at the same season because it was common to hold festivals of light at this time of the year. Hanukkah is a stirring story of freedom, but it nonetheless remains a minor festival in the Jewish calendar. Its elevation to a level of such prominence is due solely to the fact that it is marketed to compete with Christmas from a commercial standpoint. And this speaks to a problem in our society in general, as well as presenting a challenge for Christians, Jews and all people of faith alike.

I address this issue to a general audience, rather than specifically to my congregation, because I believe that it is important for all people of faith, whatever their religion or heritage, to reclaim the true meaning of their holy days. Rather than falsely seeking to unite ourselves through the idol of materialism, focusing on the trappings of the various holidays, let us instead form a true bond with one another by each celebrating our respective holy days and recognizing their real significance. By doing so, we strengthen our own religious conviction and are then able to enjoy the beauty and teachings of other faiths without feeling that our own faith is undermined.

I, for one, am opposed to calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree. I am opposed to Christians feeling pressured to water down their religious beliefs because others may feel offended. But I am also opposed to anyone who mistakes proud displays of faith with the right to impose such faith on others. Celebrating Christmas, or any holy day, should be encouraged, as long as it is done with the understanding that we all choose to practice, or not practice, our faith in different ways.

Ironically, for me, Christmas helps reinforce the true message of Hanukkah, just as the true message of Hanukkah, I believe, strengthens the celebration of Christmas. We are so fortunate in our community and country to have the freedom to worship and celebrate freely. May we appreciate this freedom by expressing ourselves appropriately, while also embracing those of other faiths who choose to do the same, but in a different way. By so doing, we will truly find warmth and light at this season.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky is a rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.

Temple Isaiah, 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook will host an event titled How Sweet It Is!, a perfect activity for those with memory impairment and their caretakers, on Sunday, Aug. 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. Participants will relive favorite memories of the 1950s with a sing-along, souvenir photos, soda fountain and snacks. Free and open to all. For more information or to RSVP, email Iris at [email protected] or call Penny at 631-751-8518.

By Rita J. Egan

William Shakespeare once compared a good deed to a candle’s beam, writing it shined in a weary world.

The power of a good dead is something members of Temple Isaiah’s Social Action Committee have known for decades. For the last 20 years, they have organized a cleanup at West Meadow Beach in Setauket, according to Iris Schiff, the committee’s chairwoman.

Once calling the volunteer opportunity “Mitzvah Day,” the group has now dubbed it “Good Deeds Day” occurred April 15. But the Stony Brook temple usually celebrates it later in the month when days are a bit warmer. Schiff said this year the Stony Brook temple invited congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church to join them. On April 29, after a communal brunch at the synagogue, a handful of volunteers headed to the beach.

“We are hoping that other faiths will join with us in the future.”

— Barbara Curtis

Barbara Curtis, a member of Setauket Presbyterian who organized church volunteers, was on hand with bag in hand.

“A good deeds day brings our faith communities together in the very best way,” Curtis said. “We are hoping that other faiths will join with us in the future.”

Rev. Mary Barrett Speers, pastor of Setauket Presbyterian Church, said in an email the beach was the perfect spot for the joint community project.

“I personally love the idea because all God’s children share God’s earth,” Barrett Speers said. “We all love West Meadow Beach, and right after Earth Day, what better way is there to celebrate our beach than by caring for it?”

Schiff said the beach was in excellent condition, and after a couple of hours of cleaning up, they only had about a half a dozen bags filled with bottle tops, balloons, cans and random pieces of plastic.

She said the cleanup wasn’t the only good deed of the day. In the morning, children from the temple painted and decorated wood crates and donated them to Setauket Presbyterian Church’s Open Door Exchange, an outreach program which redistributes furniture to those in need. A few families also volunteered with Great Strides Long Island, Inc.at Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island, a nonprofit organization that helps developmentally disabled children ride horses.

After the beach cleanup, Schiff said she felt good about the day.

“Everybody was just right on the same page and feeling the same way,” she said. “I’m really hoping that next year we’re able to expand this and bring in some of the other faith communities.”

A WARM WELCOME Cantor Marcey Wagner in her office at Temple Isaiah Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Spirituality has new resonance at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.

It comes in the voice of Marcey Wagner, who joined the Reform Jewish congregation last July, filling the dual roles of cantor and education director. The congregation will officially welcome her with an installation ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 29.

“I embrace the idea of new beginnings,” Cantor Wagner said during an interview in her temple office, “and I look forward to joyful things.”

Cantor Marcey Wagner in her office at Temple Isaiah Photo by Donna Newman

Wagner said she is pleased that many of her friends and colleagues gathered over her career will be present to celebrate and that the installing officer will be Dr. Cindy Dolgin, former head of the Solomon Schechter School on Long Island.

The addition of Cantor Marcey, as she likes to be known, is truly a joy according to her co-workers. Interim Rabbi David Katz views her as a valuable asset — both in the sanctuary and in the classroom.

“Cantor Wagner brings her vibrant nature to the bimah [clergy platform] and years of experience to the position of educational director,” he said. “She is a great addition to our staff, bringing beauty to our worship and creativity to our school.”

Temple Administrator Penny Gentile also sings Wagner’s praises. “It is a pleasure to work with Cantor Marcey,” said Gentile. “She is such a vivacious person — so full of energy that it’s absolutely contagious. I’ve heard so many positive comments from the Hebrew School students and their parents. She is truly a team player with a gift for identifying and nurturing strengths in everyone. And what a beautiful voice!”

Although ordained as a cantor, Wagner said she has not been “on the bimah” (i.e., she has not held a cantorial position) for eight years. Instead she has been focused on teaching, but she said that returning is like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it,” she said. “The audition felt like coming home.” Wagner said she loves seeing the children and hearing their voices and their laughter. For her it makes a synagogue come alive, which is why she has pursued education along with cantorial duties.

“Cantors spend more hours teaching than singing,” she said.

Wagner has been involved in all facets of Jewish education — teaching students from preschool through senior citizens. Before coming to Temple Isaiah she served as director of Youth and Family Education at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, New York. Her career included four years as principal of the Lower School of the Schechter School of Long Island and a decade as cantor and educator at the Jewish Congregation of Brookville in Nassau County.

Wagner received her investiture as hazzan (cantor) from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, at which she also earned a master’s degree in sacred music with a concentration in education. She was selected to attend The Principals’ Center leadership seminar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The board of directors at Temple Isaiah unanimously approved Wagner’s hiring and has been extremely pleased with her performance to date.

“Cantor Marcey is a breath of fresh air,” said President Jay Schoenfeld, “both on the bimah and in the religious school. Her energy is boundless and her warmth is evident in all the connections she’s already established with congregants, lay leaders and community members. A collaboration with Rabbi Katz to offer children’s services for the High Holy Days — open to the public and free of charge — demonstrates her devotion to Judaism. We are delighted to have her at Temple Isaiah.”

Cantor Marcey is delighted, too, and said she already knows she’s found a new home.

“It’s wonderful meeting people and seeing how warm and welcoming [the Temple Isaiah] community is,” she said. “I’m planning on staying a long time. I’ve been impressed with everyone’s organization and efficiency; I have a very positive feeling about this place. Everything has lived up to my expectations. It’s exciting when there’s a path to go on and you have congenial, capable partners with whom to make the journey.”

Wagner is committed to shaking things up, she said, to prove that Hebrew school can be fun. To elucidate she described last month’s opening session of the school program. Using a film clip from the movie “Babe’” in which the title character, a piglet, arrives at the farm, she led a discussion about new beginnings, which are exciting and scary — and complicated. The unconventional, unkosher protagonist, she said, was intended to make people think — and laugh. The session included students alongside their parents, and Wagner said she made sure everyone present took away at least one new bit of knowledge, to encourage discourse.

“One of the strongest ways to promote Judaism,” she said, “is to provide a venue for parents and children to discuss the important questions; to have the important conversations.”

Misuzu Tanaka. Photo by Denis Gostev

The Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council in conjunction with Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook recently announced its line-up for the fifth season of the Triad Concert Series.

The classical music series opens with a performance by the Washington Square Winds, a woodwind quintet from New York City, on Sunday, March 5. Formed in 2009, the group will perform chamber music by Shostakovich, Reicha, Taffanel and more.

Above, the Washington Square Winds; back row, from left, Casey Cronan, Gregory Weissman; front row, from left, Elyssa Plotkin, Caryn Toriaga and Allison Nicotera. Photo from Paula Plotkin

On Sunday, March 19, (date corrected from print version) Christina McGann, Jingwen Tu and Hsin Chiao Liao will be performing works by Beethoven, Bloch and Brahms on violin and piano. The series will conclude on Sunday, April 30 with a performance by Misuzu Tanaka. The pianist will perform works by Mozart, Prokofiev, Bach and Rachmaninoff.

“I am very proud and excited to share what is in store for our community with Season 5 of the Triad Concert Series,” said Paula Plotkin, chair of the series and GPJAC board member. “When you come to one or all of our classical concerts, you leave behind your worries and stressors of the day and are transported to a wonderful world of music and culture,” she added.

All concerts begin at 3 p.m. at Temple Isaiah at 1404 Stony Brook Road in Stony Brook. A reception with light refreshments and a “meet and greet” follow each performance. CDs will be available for purchase. Tickets for adults are $15 in advance, $18 at the door; $10 seniors 65 and older and students high school age and older, children ages 15 and younger are free. A $40 series ticket for all three shows is also available.

To purchase tickets in advance, send a check to GPJAC c/o Plotkin 15 Oxford Drive, Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776 or visit www.gpjac.org and click on PayPal. While on the Triad page of the website, click on the link next to each concert description to hear the musicians perform. Questions? Please call Paula at 631-902-1584.