Temple Adas Israel's Procession Home
Rabbi Daniel Geffen leads the congregation of Temple Adas Israel onto Atlantic Avenue as the group returned to its synagogue after two years in temporary space at the Old Whalers' Church. MARIANNE BARNETT
Nathaniel Oppenheimer, carrying a Torah, is accompanied by his mother, Leah Oppenheimer, and father, Dr. John Oppenheimer. MARIANNE BARNETT
Mark, Emily and Isabel Kaplan as the congregation of Temple Adas Israel returned home on Friday. MARIANNE BARNETT
Jeremy and Ariella Rogers and Noa Kline before the procession began. MARIANNE BARNETT
Rabbi Daniel Geffen at the head of the procession. MARIANNE BARNETT
Rabbi Daniel Geffen assists Gail Gambino who carried one of four Torahs that were returned to Temple Adas Israel. MARIANNE BARNETT
Rabbi Daniel Geffen leads the congregation of Temple Adas Israel in a procession back to its Atlantic Avenue synagogue on Friday. MARIANNE BARNETT
Breanne Sender holds a Torah and her husband, Boris, holds their daughter, Amelia, during Friday's procession. MARIANNE BARNETT
Jacob Weller holds a Keter during Friday's procession. MARIANNE BARNETT
Ike Fagin, Henry Butle and Marcus Krotman at Friday's procession. MARIANNE BARNETT
Marcus Kline, with his daughters, Kennedy and Noa, at Friday's procession. MARIANNE BARNETT
Helen and Marc Jerome during Friday's procession. MARIANNE BARNETT
Two years after the start of a top-to-bottom renovation project displaced Temple Adas Israel, the congregation returned to its synagogue on Atlantic Avenue in Sag Harbor on Friday, May 5, in a joyous procession from its temporary home in the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church.
“It’s utterly magnificent,” journalist Karl Grossman said of the $7.3 million renovation project, which expanded the sanctuary and added classroom and other public space to the synagogue, which was built in 1898 and is the oldest Jewish synagogue on Long Island.
Grossman said that his great aunt, and later his grandmother, started his family’s migration to Sag Harbor from their native Hungary more than a century ago, at a time when the Fahys Watchcase factory provided employment for skilled Jewish craftsman.
Rabbi Daniel Geffen could not conceal his excitement, as members of his congregation gathered around him for the three-block procession from the Old Whalers’ Church. He jokingly gave the group directions: “We are going to walk up to the Harbor Market,” he said, “and then it should be pretty familiar to you guys.”
During the procession, congregants carried each of Temple Adas Israel’s four Torahs, including two with special significance. One was given to the congregation by Theodore Roosevelt, which was carried by Jewish members of the Rough Riders who fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. When his troops broke camp after recuperating at Montauk, it is said he delivered it to the closest synagogue, which happened to be Temple Adas Israel. Another was loaned to the congregation by the Memorial Scrolls Trust, an organization that seeks to restore Torahs that were damaged during the Holocaust.
The rabbi offered tips to the congregants who carried each of the Torahs: “Treat it like it’s a child,” he said. “You wouldn’t drop a child. You are not going to drop a Torah.”
With Geffen and Cantor Kevin McKenzie, who played guitar and led the assembly in song, in the lead, the throng of perhaps 150 people slowly made its way up the hill to the synagogue, pausing frequently to hand off Torahs to other congregants.
Sag Harbor Village Police closed off roads along the route, and a few residents looked on. Both Nancy French Achenbach and Bethany Deyermond, of the Sag Harbor Historical Museum, made videos of the procession. Diane Schiavoni, who watched the departure, said she was there, because “it’s history.”
Back home, members took a few minutes to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings before Geffen lead a welcome-home service that was marked by song and joy.
“The last time that I led a service from this exact spot, I was by myself,” Geffen said at the beginning of his sermon, struggling to contain his emotions. “I was in a room staring at a camera, trying as hard as I possibly could to imagine this.
“Thinking of this moment, praying for this moment, hoping for this moment,” he continued. “Then to be able to stand here and actually witness it, to see it with my own eyes, to feel it in my bones. It’s as powerful and significant an experience as I’ve ever had in my entire life.”
Geffen spoke about the struggles the congregation experienced with COVID-19 — “The last years tested my faith in ways I can’t even describe,” he said — and the long time and amount of work it took to see through the renovation project, which, he said, began for him when he was first appointed by the congregation in 2014 and was introduced to a dream held by former Rabbi Leon Morris and several others members.
Geffen paid special attention to the synagogue’s windows, which, he said, not only offered a view of God’s creation but of the community outside that had welcomed the congregation from the beginning.
“Our life as Jews is not to hide behind walls, but to be out in the world doing the good that this community does each and every day,” he said. “It’s only a building without us — without our children, without the next generation, without our teachers, without our staff, without our volunteers, without our leadership, without all of us contributing and taking this unbelievable gift that is in front of us and pushing it further forward, of doing even more good, of seeing the world outside and acting in it to bring peace, to bring justice, to bring joy, to bring celebration, to bring community.”
One fine body…