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A few dozen congregation members gathered in Floral Park Friday to celebrate the groundbreaking for Temple Sholom’s new synagogue.
Standing in the vacant lot at the corner of 80th Avenue and 254th Street, Cantor Josée Wolff, the temple’s spiritual leader, read from Psalm 118 as she spoke about a community that, not too long ago, was close to closing its doors.
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone,” she read.
President Paul Trolio said the temple’s former home of 20 years, the sanctuary and school buildings at 264th Street and Union Turnpike, was much too large for the congregation and the overhead costs of operating it were becoming a financial burden.
In an effort to trim costs, Temple Sholom sold its home a little more than two years ago to the Korean All Nations Church and has been working for more than a year to design a new, more economically feasible building.
Synagogues across the borough are faced with the same problems, he said: ever-smaller congregations in buildings meant to accommodate those twice the size.
“I think that with the baby boom generation, everyone was building synogagues. Now coincidentally the first ones are retiring. It’s a generational thing,” he said. “I’ve spoken with my colleagues, and I think we’re coming now to the end of a 60-year cycle where all of a sudden we have the synagogues that were built for 400 [to] 600 people and now they’re down to 100.”
“In our heyday — we always had a lot of kids — we had about 300 or 400 families. We’ve got less than half of that now,” Trolio said. “[Synagogues are] burning money and their biggest asset is the building, which is non-liquid with this economy. The best thing to do is sell the whole thing and build smaller and more economically feasible.
The front of the new building along 80th Avenue will feature a wooden wall styled as a menorah that will be softly illuminated at night, and the wall wrapping around the opposite corner will be wrapped in Jerusalem Stone.
The stone wall will extend past the height of the roof to obscure the solar panels, Trolio said, and could provide more than 100 percent of the building’s electrical power.
State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) acknowledged the temple’s financial ups and downs and said it had a great future to look forward to.
Trolio said many congregations facing financial hardships have chosen to renovate older buildings as opposed to build new ones.
“I’ve spoken with the Queens Historical Society, and no one can remember a new synagogue being built in the past 60 years,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a permanent impact on Jewish congregational life in Queens for a long time.”
“It sounds strange. We’re having a lot of fun. This small little renegade congregation is making an impact,” Trolio said. “If this works, it may be an answer for a lot of synagogues on the brink of disaster or insolvency.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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