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Flooded synagogue gets help for Rosh Hashanah

Treasurer Steve Michelson, left, and Co-President Steve Diamond

Treasurer Steve Michelson, left, and Co-President Steve Diamond of the Jewish Center of Island Park, move a Torah ark from their water-damaged congregation to the Sacred Heart Parish Center in Island Park where they will hold their Rosh Hashanah services Monday. (Sept. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

An aging ruptured pipe flooded and damaged the Jewish Center of Island Park Sunday but also cemented ties between neighbors of two faiths just in time for the first night of Rosh Hashanah.

Synagogue leaders arrived at the center Sunday morning -- hours before the 6:30 p.m. start of services -- to find the first floor of the two-story synagogue built in 1952 inundated with five inches of water. They quickly contacted Father John Tutone of The Sacred Heart Church, just a block away on Long Beach Road.

Although mindful that the church's Parish Hall was still in disarray from last week's San Gennaro Festival, Tutone gave the synagogue's anxious leaders a simple response.

"We'll make this happen," Tutone said he told them.

He called some of the church's parishioners and within the hour more than 20 volunteers were at the hall and the synagogue in a fast-moving cleanup effort. Volunteers worked alongside the Island Park Fire Department to clear the synagogue of floodwaters so a small service could be held upstairs last night.

"They not only welcomed us, they bent over backwards," said Jan S. Rothman, co-president of the Jewish Center.

Volunteers also mopped the floors, cleaned the bathrooms and set up chairs at the Parish Hall for a larger Rosh Hashanah service this morning.

"I don't know what else to say, but 'thank you,' " Steve Michelson, the secretary-treasurer of the synagogue, told a cleanup crew as they scrubbed a hall kitchen Sunday.

Michelson described their work as a "labor of love."

Terry and Jim Fallon, who have been attending Sacred Heart for the past 30 years, were among the first to answer Father Tutone's call for volunteers.

"It's what we should be doing," Terry Fallon said, recalling how her own home had been flooded during Tropical Storm Irene last year.

Later, as Michelson drove a pickup truck loaned by the church to help transport chairs and the synagogue prayer books, he drew parallels between Rosh Hashanah -- the start of the Jewish new year, celebrated from sundown Sunday through nightfall Tuesday -- and the synagogue's current set of new beginnings.

The synagogue is merging with the Congregation Beth Sholom of Long Beach, Michelson said. Remodeling plans for the aging building put in place before the flooding are still to come and now congregants will start the Jewish new year at a temporary venue with the help of their neighbors.

"It shows the resiliency of our congregation," Michelson said. "Overcoming insurmountable odds, through the support and love of the community."

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