On Oct. 8, Wantagh’s Temple B’nai Torah marked 100 days since it merged with a former East Meadow synagogue, Temple Emanu-El. The two congregations formally combined to form one on July 1.
Rabbi Daniel Bar-Nahum, who led Temple Emanu-El through the transition, said the process began some three and a half years ago, when it became clear that repairing the congregation’s building on Merrick Avenue was not financially realistic. As the congregation considered its future, worshippers mulled a number of options before deciding that a merger with a temple with the same mission, vision and goals would give them the best change to survive and thrive.
A search of local temples brought them to Temple B’nai Torah, on Jerusalem Avenue in Wantagh, and Rabbi Howard Nacht.
The two communities began getting acquainted with each other, and eventually, temple officials signed a term sheet for the merger. “That really began the process in earnest,” Bar-Nahum said.
Bar-Nahum said that while much work has gone into the merger, there is still much to be done. “We are very lucky that we have so many people dedicated to making this merger successful,” he said.
It is the second merger for B’nai Torah. In 2008, the congregation was formed from the merger of Temple Judea, in Massapequa, and Wantagh’s Suburban Jewish Center.
According to Bar-Nahum, everything in the merger is up for discussion. The synagogues have their own customs, so even simple religious services need to be harmonized. “We’re both Reform Jewish congregations, and because of that, there’s a lot that we share,” Bar-Nahum explained. “But we had to work to bridge the gap
of the differences in our rituals and
More than 20 merger committees were formed to help decide, among other issues, how to approach various rituals and how to merge the two synagogues’ schools. Bar-Nahum said that the synagogue now calls itself the new Temple B’nai Torah, to make clear that it is a new congregation.
At the conclusion of Temple Emanu-El’s final service in June, nearly 200 members marched the four miles from Merrick Avenue, carrying the synagogue’s Torah scrolls, to the first service at the Temple B’nai Torah. “I wanted to make sure that there was no discontinuity in the community,” Bar-Nahum said. “We had our last service in East Meadow and then we walked here and had our first service here, so there was no break.”
Bar-Nahum said that, for the most part, things have gone well since the merger. Congregants are comfortable with the change, and the High Holiday season was very successful. “But, as with any change and any transition,” he added, “things are going to be difficult.”
The rabbi said that particularly with a religious organization, saying goodbye to the old and adjusting to the new stirs strong emotions. “That’s difficult for folks,” he said, “but we’re working with everyone to try and make sure everyone is comfortable.”
According to Bar-Nahum, the synagogue is using what it calls an additive approach to change, so that the members of both congregations still have everything they were accustomed to. For example, B’nai Torah was less strict about food than Emanu-El. The temple now keeps strictly kosher.
The new Temple B’nai Torah views things from a values perspective. “What are our values?” Bar-Nahum asked. “What is important to us, and how does that help us to answer this question?”
Nacht will continue to serve as the community’s second rabbi until December, when he will retire. After that, Bar-Nahum and Cantor Rica Timmann will be the congregation’s clergy.
“I’m very grateful,” Bar-Nahum said, “because we now are a congregation that is looking to the future with strength and is looking to the future in a way that we have lots of opportunities to really do wonderful things for our community and for the [outside] community.”
Nacht said that his upcoming retirement would be his second. He retired 10 years ago, although he filled in as rabbi or cantor from time to time at Temple B’nai Torah — one of a handful of rabbi-cantors. Three years ago he was asked to fill in as rabbi “for three months,” he recalled. “Now, almost three years later,” he added, “I’m looking forward to retiring again.”
Nacht said that the merger of the two synagogues is similar to other consolidations. “It’s kind of like a marriage,” he said. As a symbol of that, joined communities enter the temple together by passing under a wedding chuppah. “You have to get to know each other,” Nacht added. “It’s one thing knowing each other beforehand, and then when you’re actually together, it isn’t necessarily what you expected. It’s a period of adjustment.”