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Sunday, April 20, 2014
Local synagogues merge and rebuild
John Maher

After months of wading through the high water pushed into the synagogue by Superstorm Sandy, the Jewish community of Island Park is finally approaching the grand opening of a new Island Park Jewish Center building.

The Center, located on Long Beach Road in Island Park, will occupy the site of the old Jewish Center of Island Park, which merged with Congregation Beth Sholom of Long Beach around the time of Hurricane Sandy.

Both congregations had been struggling for the past few years, with each sporting dwindling membership numbers that reached an all-time low in the wake of the hurricane. Beth Sholom has leased space for services since it sold its building to developers in 2010, and the JCIP suffered massive damage to its first floor after a water pipe burst this past September—damage that was doubled after Sandy.

“All our congregates sustained losses,” said Steve Michelson, the Center’s vice president and treasurer. “It’s been very tough spiritually.”

Nevertheless, thanks to a joint effort between Michelson and the Center’s co-presidents, Steve Diamond and Jan Rothman, the rebuilding efforts are close to finished. The Center’s entire first floor has been gutted, and now features a brand new ballroom, dairy and meat kitchens, electric, water, and air conditioning and heating units. Michelson expects the community room to be completed within the week and the classrooms within a month, at which point the Center would finally open. “That’s just a ballpark estimate,” Michelson said, “but I think we’ve turned the corner.”

The size and makeup of the new membership remains uncertain. . Much of Beth Sholom’s population is elderly, and many members of the congregation relocated to summer homes in Florida, Michelson said. Additionally, efforts to rebuild the membership will be made almost impossible until the Center itself is finally on its feet. Yet hopes for the new congregation are high. The community, says Michelson, is bound together by “faith and resiliency.” However long their road to recovery may be, they know they will be walking it together.

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