It wasn’t exactly a task of biblical proportions, but over the past four years Brad Kolodny of Plainview has managed to photograph every synagogue that ever existed from the Queens line to Montauk Point, at the same time chronicling the life and times of more than 400 buildings that have been used by Long Island Jewish congregations, some disbanded long ago.
The result of his odyssey is “Seeking Sanctuary: 125 Years of Synagogues on Long Island,” a 128-page coffee table book released last month by Segulah Press, a new Merrick-based Jewish publishing house. The book has profiles of every synagogue, past and present, and more than 300 photographs, including of some two dozen buildings that were deconsecrated and sold as residential or commercial properties, bought by other faiths or demolished. There’s a list of the 20 oldest surviving synagogues on Long Island and a chronology of Jewish life here beginning in the early 18th century.
“I wanted to document synagogues in a book because Judaism is changing,” said Kolodny, 49, who works for The New York Times as an advertising sales representative. “Congregations are merging and buildings are being sold off and torn down.”
Readers can see photos of Setauket’s Agudas Achim, which Kolodny said was the first synagogue built on Long Island, in 1896, and abandoned during World War I. From 1948 to 1971, it was the home of North Shore Jewish Center, which moved to a new building in Port Jefferson Station. Subsequently, the building was acquired by Setauket United Methodist Church and is in use as a thrift shop. He also focuses on the West Hempstead Quonset hut that housed Nassau Community Temple through the 1950s. Kolodny said the congregation disbanded in the 1990s, its former sanctuary turned into a Beverage Barn, then a laundromat — its current incarnation.
Kolodny also took interior and exterior photos of Temple Emanu-El of East Meadow, a beehive-shaped, multicolored landmark on Merrick Avenue since 1957. The building was demolished this year after its congregation merged with a Wantagh synagogue, Kolodny said.
Kolodny’s interest in photographing synagogues began while growing up in New City, in Rockland County. On teen travels he photographed what he said is the nation’s oldest Jewish sanctuary, Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. His shutterbug skills were honed as a student press photographer at the University at Albany, where he graduated in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
The idea for the book project came to Kolodny in 2015 during a service at his synagogue, Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, as he sat contemplating a sanctuary renovation that was underway.”
He had been in favor of the renovation as a “very good indicator of a strong, vibrant congregation,” but began to “consider all the memories that become less vivid in a new space,” Kolodny said recently. He also began to ponder “what memories had been lost at other synagogues over the years.”
He began to take pictures near his home for his Instagram account, instagram.com/synagoguesoflongisland, which has more than 600 followers. As the hobby grew into a book project, Kolodny visited and photographed every active Jewish house of worship from Great Neck and Cedarhurst in western Nassau County to Montauk and Greenport out east.
To compile a definitive list, he consulted rabbis, congregational leaders and historical societies.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, said Kolodny’s work is a benefit to Long Island’s Jewish community.
“I have been very impressed by his [Kolodny’s] diligence and his attention to detail, as he often contacted me to make sure he had included every Chabad location, past and present,” Teldon said, adding, “I hope this work shows young Jewish people today that we have much to be proud of from the past.”
Kolodny also combed newspaper archives, library and museum collections, and thumbed through such historical documents as old phone books and county land records.
“As someone who grew up in Massapequa, I was amazed at the rich Jewish history that existed in places that I’ve known for my entire life,” said Rabbi Dave Siegel of Merrick, founder and publisher of Segulah Press and director of Hofstra’s Hillel chapter, which serves Jewish college students.
Siegel said that “Seeking Sanctuary” is available online on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and will soon be sold in Jewish bookstores on Long Island. Kolodny also plans to speak at author appearances in Long Island synagogues.
Although the Long Island project is complete, Kolodny is seeking synagogues to photograph on travels from the West Coast to Northern Europe.
Earlier this summer he vacationed with his wife and two kids in Norway, where he snapped a shot of Oslo’s lone synagogue. He’s motivated, he said, by “Jewish pride.”
“You can go anywhere in the world and there’s a synagogue,” Kolodny said.
CORRECTION: Several facts are incorrect in today’s LI Life story “Synagogue Stories,” which was printed in advance. Kingdom Ambassadors Global Assembly is in Lynbrook; “Seeking Sanctuary: 125 Years of Synagogues on Long Island” chronicles more than 400 buildings that have been used by Jewish congregations on Long Island; the book has profiles of every synagogue, past and present, and more than 300 photographs, including of some two dozen buildings that were deconsecrated and sold; and Setauket’s Agudas Achim congregation later became North Shore Jewish Center. (Pg. 20 7/21/19)
About the book
“Seeking Sanctuary: 125 Years of Synagogues on Long Island” (Segulah Press, 2019) is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For upcoming synagogue appearances visit bit.ly/synagoguesoflongisland.