Although a Reform congregation has a licensing agreement to use space in a Conservative synagogue in central Nassau County, both congregations are studying the idea of developing formal ties.
It would not be the first time that Reform and Conservative congregations have created a partnership, but such ties are becoming more crucial in light of the declining Jewish population on Long Island.
“If a congregation — especially on Long Island — doesn’t pay attention to changing demographics and the needs of its congregants, it’s going to be a dinosaur,” said Steve Krauser of the Jericho Jewish Center.
His congregation — which has about 250 member families, down from a high of 650 families 30 years ago — has been exploring the possibility of forming an alliance with the Jewish Congregation of Brookville. It would not be a merger because both congregations would maintain their own services and clergy, but they would share space and have joint programming where feasible.
“The Jewish world is contracting in terms of how many institutions we can support,” said Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, spiritual leader of the Jewish Congregation of Brookville. “The question is whether we can maintain two different communities inside one house. We are working on shared adult education and social action programs; there are shared projects and programs we can do together. We could have joint Shabbat dinners, but we want to maintain our different styles of prayer.”
“We believe in Jewish pluralism and different choices for Jews,” Rabbi Moskowitz explained. “We are not a full partnership yet. We are still working on what a full partnership would look like. It could be the future. We’re taking it one step at a time.”
Talks towards forming an alliance began more than two years ago. The Jewish Congregation, which licensed space from the Jericho Jewish Center for the first time last year, renewed the license July 1 for a second year. It was founded in a home 18 years ago and had previously held services in a Protestant church whose space it outgrew.
“The renewed licensing agreement allows them to use various parts of our facility when we are not using it or when we can accommodate them,” said Mark Wilkow, president of the Jericho Jewish Center.
“They are primarily using our religious school wing during weekday afternoons and our main sanctuary for their Friday night services,” he explained. “And they have the right to use the sanctuary virtually on a weekly basis, except for holidays or when we say we need it in advance for a special event. They also have limited use to it on Saturday mornings. They hold High Holy Day services someplace else, so there is no conflict.”
Wilkow pointed out that from September through April or May, his Conservative congregation holds Friday night services at sundown; the Reform congregation’s Friday service is at 7 p.m. each week.
The Conservative congregation uses the sanctuary on Saturday mornings, although the Reform may use it once a month.
“They can use it more than once a month at our discretion, so we work out a calendar to ensure that there is no conflict with a bar mitzvah,” Wilkow added. “They use meeting rooms for evening committee and board meetings. We are lucky we have a large excellently maintained building with numerous classrooms.”
Asked about the future, Wilkow said: “An alliance is the potential for the future. Some people in both congregations envision one building that we’d both share. We’d own the building together and new members would choose which service they wished to attend. A congregation in Alaska was built with that premise. It has two sanctuaries and in the middle a Hebrew school that they run together.”
Krauser, who is the Jericho Jewish Center’s representative on the alliance committee, noted that he grew up in a Reform home in Brooklyn and “very easily became Conservative” when he moved to Jericho 14 years ago.
“The pieces have to be worked out, but having one place where Reform and Conservative Jews could go and get what they want would satisfy different needs and desires and bring the Jewish community more together,” he said.
Joe DiMaggio, the Jewish Congregation’s representative in the alliance talks, said that although discussions have been going on for more than two years, much more needs to be decided.
“It’s a very complicated process and it will take a lot of time,” he said. “I think we are a few years away. There is an enormous amount of organizational change that needs to take place, and that takes time.”
DiMaggio pointed out that his congregation — he declined to reveal its total membership — does not have its own building, which could have presented a stumbling block in forming the alliance.
“We have two vibrant congregations that have to plan how we are going to live together,” he said. “Right now we’re all welcome to participate in each other’s congregations. We have separate fundraisers and do everything separately, so at the moment it’s very easy.”