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Arbor celebration unites Bayside Jews

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It was only appropriate that a celebration of regrowth should be the occasion of two Bayside synagogues coming together to rekindle the Jewish community in northeast Queens.

Some 70 parishioners from the two synagogues gathered at the Oak Hills temple’s ballroom, at 50-35 Cloverdale Blvd., Sunday morning to observe Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish equivalent of Arbor Day. The turnout was far more than the 40 guests organizers expected and much more than either temple would have mustered on its own.

Tu B’Shevat is the “New Year for Trees” on the Jewish calendar, marking the start of the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in Israel begin a new fruit-bearing cycle after the winter rains.

But the congregati­ons’ leaders also saw it as the start of a stronger network of conservative synagogues whose ranks have dwindled over the past three decades as members aged and their children moved away.

“We just hope that this is the beginning of a partnership between Oak Hills and the Bayside Jewish Center, and that we can work together not just on social events, but to promote the spirit of Judaism to approach what we had in years gone by,” said Oak Hills Rabbi Jeffrey Rappaport as he officiated over the rites of consuming wine and fruit and singing traditional songs.

“Hopefully, this is the beginning of a nice relationsh­ip,” said Bayside Jewish Center Rabbi Moses Kirsh, noting he met Rappaport face-to-face only recently. “I just came to pick up something. We ended up talking for probably two or three hours.”

Marvin Sklamberg, president of the Oak Hills temple, said Bayside temple President Paul Kantor proposed the idea in December. Both synagogues have around 180 members, down substantially from a peak of about 600 each in the 1960s.

“It didn’t take much realization that both our synagogues as well as the other synagogues in the area are in need of help, that our community is dying, that the older you get, the less you want to go out in the evenings,” Sklamberg said.

Kantor said his temple had 275 members when he joined 18 years ago. The Bayside Jewish Center has started holding monthly movies to attract people

“There’s many, many shuls in northeast Queens that are struggling,” he said, noting he hopes to forge partnerships with other congregations. “We’re trying to listen to anybody who wants to talk.”

The two temples are next planning to collaborate for a Purim party to be held at the Bayside Jewish Center, 203-05 32nd Ave., Feb. 28 at 1 p.m.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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