Congregation Beth Emeth moving to Rockville Centre

Christian ministry buying Franklin Avenue building


A temple is leaving its building on Franklin Avenue in Hewlett, a church organization is moving in and some residents have concerns about their new neighbors.

Congregation Beth Emeth, the only Reconstructionist synagogue on Long Island’s South Shore, is planning to lease space for its membership of 100 families from Central Synagogue in Rockville Centre, though the two institutions have not yet finalized an agreement. Gary Carlton, an attorney representing Congregation Beth Emeth, said he expects the temple to have a lease in place before the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in September.

The congregation was originally Conservative when it was established in the 1950s, and was called the Hewlett Temple. By the 1990s, membership had declined to 48 families. In the hope of attracting new members, the temple, at 36 Franklin Ave., became affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement in 1994.

“We have a long history, and the building is filled with many memories for all our members,” said Herb Ruben, a member of Congregation Beth Emeth’s executive committee. “There is a sadness about it, but the congregation has a close sense of cohesiveness and they know many different options were explored.”

New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, approved the sale of the temple to Lilies International Christian Outreach, an organization run by Elsie Obed, a well-known religious leader. The sale must still be approved by a Nassau State Supreme Court judge, according to Carlton, which is expected by month’s end. The purchase price was $2.4 million, he confirmed.

The Hewlett congregation was looking to downsize from the 15,400-square-foot building to a much smaller one. Leasing space in Central Synagogue will allow Beth Emeth to cut its expenses, while remaining in the same general geographic area. Its membership comes from the Five Towns, East Rockaway, Lynbrook and Far Rockaway.

“The congregation and I remain committed to one another and look forward to a bright, new future,” said Rabbi Elliot Skiddell, the temple’s spiritual leader.

Ruben and Skiddell said that the congregation will retain its autonomy, but there are some programs and projects that Congregation Beth Emeth and Central Synagogue could collaborate on.

Joanne Haiby, president of Central Synagogue, said that at a recent temple meeting, the reaction of Central congregants was “overwhelmingly favorable.” “We hope to welcome the Beth Emeth Reconstructionist Temple of Hewlett to Central Synagogue,” Haiby said. “They will be maintaining their own identity and holding their own services in the Hornstein Chapel of Central Synagogue. They are lovely people and we look forward to a good relationship.”

Neighborhood objections

Some Hewlett residents are concerned about Lilies International Christian Outreach moving into the Franklin Avenue building. A group called the Hewlett Residents Association has expressed worries about parking and occupancy by a ministry that attracts large crowds to its services, which are occasionally held in large venues and hotel ballrooms.

“They are interested in finding out more about what is going on,” said Adam Mazur, an associate at Todd Shapiro Associates, a public relations firm that is representing the residents.

Ruben and Skiddell said they are not aware of the residents’ group, or any complaints from neighbors. Skiddell said that when the sale was announced, there were some phone calls about it from people who identified themselves as Hewlett residents, but there have been no follow-up calls.

“We live in an open society, a diverse neighborhood and we have always gotten along,” Skiddell said. “This is not a substantial change. It is one organization moving on into a new future and a new organization moving into those premises.”

Neither Obed nor anyone else from her organization had returned a call seeking comment by press time.