Little Neck Jewish Center crowd officially welcomes new rabbi

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More than 175 people packed the Little Neck Jewish Center Sunday to watch the installation of the synagogue’s new rabbi, Gordon Yaffe, who members said will breathe new life into an institution that has had trouble attracting members.

Yaffe was officially installed Sunday evening, but has been leading the synagogue at 49-10 Little Neck Pkwy. for several months.

“Conservative Judaism is struggling with membership, which is why when we looked for a new rabbi, we wanted someone who was inspiring and exciting,” said Steve Aronowitz, president of the Little Neck Jewish Center. “We’ve already picked up several families. We still have a long way to go, but there’s a genuine excitement about being here now, and attendance has picked up.”

Aronowitz said the center has in part had difficulties finding members because few Conservative Jewish families are moving into the Little Neck area, which has seen an increase in the Orthodox community. ´╗┐Still, he said the center’s congregation has hope this will change, thanks to Yaffe, as well as the new cantor, Joshua Shron. Shron performed a humorous song about him and the rabbi being a dynamic duo during the installation ceremony, which drew much laughter and a standing ovation.

Yaffe is the fourth rabbi at the Little Neck Jewish Center, which was founded 62 years ago and now has about 220 families as well as a well-attended Hebrew school, Aronowitz said. Yaffe, who lives in Great Neck, L.I., with his wife, Carrie, grew up in Bethesda, Md., and has worked at synagogues in Connecticut and most recently in New Jersey.

“I’m excited about bringing the depth and beauty of the Jewish tradition to the community and to embark on a journey with the members of my congregati­on,” Yaffe said.

The installation ceremony, which lasted about an hour, was a festive occasion that included music and speeches by Rabbi Richard Hammerman, the executive director of Agudath Israel in New Jersey; Rabbi Moshe Edelman, the associate director of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Yaffe.

“I’ve seen Rabbi Yaffe as a wonderful member of the community who brings blessings to the Jewish and non-Jewish communities,” Hammerman said.

Hammerman continued by saying that the rabbi will help lead the center on a “path to an exciting, joyful and vibrant future.”

Edelman said he was honored to install Yaffe, who is an old friend of his with whom he has traveled on a mission trip to Israel and on a trip to Mississippi to help with the rebuilding efforts there after Hurricane Katrina.

“He is a rabbi with values, and he said this kind of social justice work he has done is important,” Edelman said.

Yaffe said that despite being uprooted from their longtime home in New Jersey, he and his wife have been overwhelmed by the congregation, who he said has welcomed them with open arms.

“We left our home, and it was scary,” Yaffe said. “We’ve been sustained by the warmth, support and love of our temple family. It’s my hope we’ll grow together for many years.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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