Dr. Matthew Shatzer and his wife, Hania, moved into their Dix Hills home last week with their two young sons after house-hunting in several Long Island communities.
“We looked in Roslyn and Syosset and we thought we could get a lot more [for the money] in Dix Hills,” he said. “I have a sister who lives [nearby] in Melville, and we liked the school district here — Half Hollow Hills No. 5.”
“We wanted a strong Jewish community,” added Shatzer, 37, a physician specializing in rehabilitative medicine. “We knew that in the areas in which we were looking we would find a strong synagogue. After we got here, we joined the Dix Hills Jewish Center. It’s a very nice place and our boys are already going to camp there. Everyone has been very nice and welcoming.”
The Shatzers, who keep a kosher home, said it was also important that there be a kosher butcher in the community. Commack Kosher Meats and Caterers, which has been in business 30 years, is the only kosher butcher in Suffolk County and is only a 10-minute drive from their home.
Dix Hills is in the Town of Huntington in western Suffolk County. The town is bordered by the Nassau-Suffolk line on the west, Long Island Sound on the north, Smithtown and Islip on the east, and it dips just south of the Long Island Expressway on the south. Commack stretches across the towns of both Huntington and Smithtown.
“This is a vibrant and diverse Jewish community and a great place to raise a family,” said Howard Buechler, the Conservative rabbi of the Dix Hills Jewish Center. “Our synagogue is a magnet synagogue, attracting families from Northport [on the north] to Babylon and Bay Shore [on the south]. … Everything is accessible within a short distance — including beaches and recreational activities. We’re in a suburban setting with all of the amenities of a top-notch kehillah [Jewish community].”
An estimated 40,000 Jews live in Huntington and Commack — the largest concentration of Jews in Suffolk County, according to Rabbi William Berman, who has been spiritual leader of the Commack Jewish Center for the last 30 years.
“This is the Jewish center of Suffolk County,” he explained. “It is here that you have the Suffolk Y JCC and a mikveh at the Y, a kosher bakery and restaurants, and the only kosher butcher and Jewish day school in the county. You also have a variety of synagogues — Reform, Conservative, Chabad, Young Israel and Reconstructionist. For anybody interested in Jewish life, it seems to me that this is the place to be. Whatever you want is here. The further east you go, the higher the rate of intermarriage and the less Jewish identification there is.”
Susie Heneson Moskowitz, associate rabbi of Temple Beth Torah on the border of Dix Hills and Melville in the Town of Huntington, pointed out that with a membership of 800 families, hers is the largest Reform congregation in Suffolk.
“We have a wonderful nursery school and it is a great way for people to get introduced to the temple and the Jewish community,” she said. “For parents, knowing that their kids are growing up with other Jews makes it easier being Jewish because all of their friends are having bar and bat mitzvahs. The fact that the Jews here are actively living a Jewish life certainly makes it easier for marginal Jews.” Because of the large number of Jews among its 8,000 members, the not-for-profit Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington shows a large selection of Jewish and Israeli films, pointed out Dylan Skolnick, its co-director.
This week it showed a documentary about the life of Gertrude Berg, who created the character of Molly Goldberg on radio and television.
“On the Jewish holidays attendance drops, so we know that Jews are a significant and treasured part of our audience,” Slonick said.
Another barometer of Jewish identity in the community is the fact that there are two Judaica shops here. One of them, Zion Lion, has been in Huntington nearly 30 years.
“When we opened, we were the only Judaica store in Suffolk County,” said Gloria Yellin, its owner. “I love to give Judaica as an engagement gift or give a mezuzah to someone moving into a new home, so to me there was a need for this store.”
Joel Block, executive director of the JCC, pointed out that his building is located on a 64-acre campus, on which is home to virtually all of the major Jewish organizations in Suffolk County, including the 460-bed Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and the Fay J. Lindner Residences, a 200-apartment assisted living facility.
Block pointed out that the JCC, Gurwin and the Lindner Residences alone employ 2,000 people.
“There is no place in the New York metropolitan area where you will find a campus approach to Jewish communal services like you do in Commack,” he said, adding that this is an approach that is common in the rest of the country.
Block pointed out that the JCC is a full-service facility with an Olympic-size swimming pool and a 600-seat theater.
“Even though our county is so big — exactly the same geographic size as the state of Rhode Island — in a lot of ways Huntington and Commack have a small community feel,” Block said.
Houses are priced from “more than $2 million to as low as $549,000 for a home that needs a lot of work,” according to Yona Miller, a salesperson at Caldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Huntington.
And she said both Half Hollow Hills School District No. 5 and the Commack School District have the distinction of being cited by the U.S. Department of Education as Blue Ribbon schools that should serve as models of excellence for the rest of the nation.
That fact means that the Jewish Academy of Suffolk County in East Northport, an Orthodox day school, must excel to succeed, according to its executive director, Rabbi Tuvia Teldon.
“The onus is on our school to prove the quality of education and the environment we create for the children,” he said. “As time goes on, we are getting more and more inquiries from people in the community.”