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Treasure trove at B’nai Torah

Wantagh temple features rarities at fundraiser

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Steven Levinson, of Wantagh, likes antiques — a lot. So much so that he rises early most Saturdays to hit yard sales and garage sales, and he follows estate sales and moving sales with the keenness of a sleuth on the trail of a suspect.

Sunday morning found him at Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh, along with about 40 other vendors for the temple’s annual antiques show and sale.

“I do six or seven of these shows a year,” said Levinson, the Wantagh representative of a medical technology company. “I started when they used be in East Meadow,” at Temple Emanu-El, with which B’nai Torah merged nearly two years ago.

The show has been an annual event for antiques dealers and buyers for more than 20 years, according to the event’s organizer, Gail Grossman. “It’s always the Sunday before Presidents Day, and it’s the [temple] Sisterhood’s main fundraiser,” she said. “We use the proceeds to beautify and maintain the temple and support its programs.”

Inside the hall, a trove of treasures awaited — everything from military souvenirs to toy soldiers to high-end gold and silver jewelry.

At Karen Edeen’s booth, turquoise jewelry vied with original NASA memorabilia for pride of place, including original shoulder patches from the Apollo 11 mission that first put humans on the moon.

“I go to shows all over,” said the resident of East Marion, who said she has set up and broken down her booth for more than 30 years. During that time, she has been up and down the Eastern Seaboard, as well as sold at shows in Pennsylvania. “This is a good show: enough customers to make it worthwhile, and the booth fees are reasonable.”

Edeen ex-plained that some shows charge so much for the booth that she finds it difficult to make a profit with her beautiful, reasonably priced wares.

Shows like the one at B’nai Torah have become increasingly rare, Edeen said, echoing a theme heard from many of the day’s vendors. “They used to be all over, but the promoters died or retired, and nobody took their place.” She also said that young people do not tend to shop at shows like B’nai Torah. “The people who buy from me want to see what they’re getting,” as opposed to shopping online.

Jim Ritchie, of Bellmore, has been in the business even longer than Edeen. “I’ve been doing this for 51 years,” he said, as he haggled good-naturedly with another vendor over a set of miniature Scots soldiers and three World War II-vintage model battleships.

“I used to have a shop in [downtown Bellmore], on Bedford Avenue,” Ritchie said. The bric-a-brac market fell off to the extent that “now I sell mainly paintings.” He said his next stop was the Cabinet of Curiosities in Freeport, where his goods would be offered on consignment, alongside such rarities as a genuine Shinto shrine.

Not everyone was happy about the possibility of publicity. A number of vendors declined to be photographed — “I don’t need the notoriety,” said one, who gave only his first name. “Bill” sold a range of remarkable and unique items, including swords and bayonets from bygone battles — one an American piece from the late 18th or early 19th century, a lovely gold Waltham ladies pocket watch in running order and an assortment of estate-sale jewelry.

Levinson had “a little of everything.” Pride of place went to the headgear of a U.S. Army major who served in Vietnam. Levinson had his dress cover, replete with oak leaves, and his helmet. He didn’t know much more of the man’s history than that he had been a medic serving in a line unit that saw combat — and that he came home.

He allowed that the event at B’nai Torah surpassed the last years when it was held at Emanu-El. “We have more than double the old crowd at Emanu-El,” he said.