After 10 years in Rockville Centre, preceded by decades leading various congregations around Long Island, Rabbi Howard Diamond will lead his final service at Congregation B’nai Sholom-Beth David on Aug. 8, and then retire. Diamond has been the only rabbi there since the two temples merged in 2010, and was instrumental not only in bringing them together, but also in helping the congregants form bonds.
“He was an integral part of providing spiritual harmony when the temples merged, and uniting the two into one of the strongest and largest in Nassau County,” Barry Hochhauser, a former board president of B’nai Sholom, said. “He was respectful of the traditions of each synagogue, and made an effort to get to know the congregants of B’nai Sholom.”
Hochhauser led the B’nai Sholom board when Rabbi Dr. Barry Dov Schwartz left and the merger began. “He proved to be a down-to-earth, roll-up-your-sleeves type of rabbi,” Hochhauser said of Diamond. “He was eager to participate in fundraisers, and helped congregants when they needed spiritual guidance.”
Diamond, 65, has been board member Caryn Morgenbesser’s rabbi for the past 21 years, since he led Beth David in Lynbrook. “When we merged, we needed a building, and they needed a rabbi,” she explained. “He told them he wouldn’t leave his congregation behind, so he took us along with him.” Morganbesser said the merger has been a “good blend,” and many of her close friends are from the new temple.
She said she has always appreciated Diamond’s down-to-earth personality, and his sense of humor. “He’s always cracking jokes, which I like because it keeps it light,” Morganbesser said, adding, “It will be odd not having him as a rabbi. We’ll have to get used to a whole new way.”
The new rabbi, David Lerner, will start on Aug. 10.
Diamond was instrumental in enriching the educational programs for all ages, according to congregants. He established a Wednesday-night discussion group and an adult post-bar/bat mitzvah study group, and he instituted the Korngold Connection, a Sunday-morning study for Hebrew school parents, interfaith couples and those who want to delve into the Talmud. He also started a post-bar/bat mitzvah group for young adults so they can stay connected to the temple. Along with other rabbis on the South Shore, he resurrected the Hebrew High School, which is held in the Rockville Centre synagogue.
“A lot of people end their religious education after their bar mitzvah, at age 13, but this has provided a means for teenagers to continue learning,” said Dr. Laurence Mack, a former CBSBD board president. He said he has also benefited from Diamond’s knowledge, meeting with him weekly in order to deepen his own knowledge of Judaism. “He’s an unbelievably warm human being and a fantastic teacher,” Mack said.
Cliff Glass, who has known Diamond for more than 20 years, said he has been there for him during difficult times in his life. “He is the finest person I’ve ever met,” Glass said. “He understands that the greatest thing you can do is listen.”
He described Diamond as having an “empathetic nature.” When Glass’s mother died four years ago, Diamond was one of the first people he called. “He was just returning from vacation,” Glass recounted, “and told me not to go to the funeral home without him.”
Glass has also depended on Diamond during recent hospitalizations. “Both times, I called the synagogue,” he said, “and 15 minutes later, he was there.
“He will be greatly missed,” Glass added. “He exhibits traits I have rarely seen in other people. He’s open, accessible, willing to help. Someone who’s there for your family — these are things you don’t forget.”
Before he led Congregation Beth David in Lynbrook, Diamond was the educational director of Temple Beth El in North Bellmore and rabbi of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport. He is the chaplain of the Lynbrook Fire Department, and a member of the Long Island Board of Rabbis. A graduate of the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore, and Stony Brook University, he also attended the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Orthodox Bet Din of Israel and Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel in 1993.
Diamond and his wife, Francine, are now in the process of moving out of the parsonage to a home in Woodmere.
“The congregants are great people,” he said. “They have treated me royally in the time I’ve been here, and made my family feel welcome. It wasn’t just a job; I like to think that a lot of them have become my friends.”
As a rabbi, he said, “I try to bring people to a higher spiritual level, and the people who came and interacted, I think most had spiritual gain. I’ll miss the interaction with my congregants.”
In his retirement, Diamond said, he has a “whole bucket list” of things he’d like to do. It includes a trip to Israel to see two of his seven children and eight of his 20 grandchildren, some of whom he has never met, as well as spending more time with those living in the area. He also plans to devote time to studying. “I’d like to raise my own level of spirituality,” he said.
Services have been held over Zoom since March, but resumed in-person this month. On Aug. 8, a limited number of congregants will be allowed in the building, following proper protocols. For Diamond’s final service, a Havdalah under the stars will begin at 8:45 p.m. A Zoom video tribute will take place on Aug. 9 at noon.
The two celebrations are meant to serve people who are wary about gatherings and prefer to keep contact virtually for now, as well as those who want to say goodbye in person, according to board President Martin Skolnick.
Skolnick said he has been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Diamond. “He’s been a part of the good times and part of the sorrow,” Skolnick said. “He’s a great person, always there for you. Aside from being a rabbi, he’s someone I can call a friend.”