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Queens synagogues merge

Members of two northeast Queens synagogues, including Rabbi Gordon Yaffe (second from back, l.), celebrate their merger as the newly formed Congregation L'Dor V'Dor. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

If you look closely at the ark inside the new Congregation L’Dor V’Dor in Little Neck, you will see double the Torahs.

On Sunday, two northeast Queens conservative synagogues celebrated their successful merger, a process that has become more common over the past decade and that prominent members of the hybrid congregation contend will become essential to survive as the borough’s demographics continue to shift. But religious ideologies do not always align perfectly.

“The Jewish demographic in northeast Queens is such that new families are not moving in,” said Rabbi Gordon Yaffe, who was previously the rabbi of the Little Neck Jewish Center, but now presides over both his old congregation, at 49-10 Little Neck Pkwy., and that of the former Oakland Jewish Center, which was in Bayside.

The congregation’s new name means “from generation to generation,” and the faithful from both synagogues hope the merger will create a thriving Jewish community with the 300 families now worshipping under the same roof. But that number is down considerably from the Little Neck Jewish Center’s heyday. In the 1980s, about 900 families worshipped at the synagogue, according to Yaffe.

The Jewish population in northeast Queens is shrinking as the Asian-American population is booming, according to the 2010 U.S. census.

About two years ago, the board at the Oakland Jewish Center saw that dwindling attendance meant it would not be able to survive on its own much longer, so it went shopping for another synagogue to team up with — a process one member likened to dating.

“We wanted a place where we felt comfortable,” said Bob Stern, former president of the Oakland Jewish Center and now co-president of L’Dor V’Dor. “We didn’t want our history or tradition to be lost.”

After courting several congregations, the board decided Yaffe, the forward-thinking rabbi in Little Neck, and his team were the best fit — although it was not a perfect fit.

For instance, men and women in Yaffe’s congregation performed the same duties, which was a progressive step for the faithful from the Bayside center, where men had a more prominent role in religious life.

“This was a step forward,” Stern said. “It’s been well-received.”

The Bayside crowd also had memorial plaques that needed to be moved to the Little Neck synagogue, and with the infusion of money from their dues, they wanted to ensure elderly members were provided with transportation to and from the synagogue.

For Yaffe, it was a chance to build on an infusion of energy into the synagogue and took care of more practical matters as well.

“From our perspective, if we were going to sustain ourselves and look to the future, we needed a broader financial base,” he said.

With a larger monetary base to draw from, the synagogue can offer more programs and activities to keep religious life buzzing, even outside of worship.

On Sunday it was unclear who was from which faction, as the food poured out in waves from the double doors of the kitchen and children snatched appetizers off platters.

According to the rabbi, the merger has created “a renaissance of Jewish life in northeast Queens,” and as an example he touted a standing-room-only crowd for the high holidays.

For Stern, the reaffirmation of the congregation’s choice to move came when he received positive feedback from the oldest members, who had been attending since the 1960s.

“I can’t imagine there will not be future consolidations over time,” Stern said. “The area just won’t support as many synagogues.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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