From left, David Wayne, Sy Susswein and Nancy Kaplan, who...

From left, David Wayne, Sy Susswein and Nancy Kaplan, who are working with the Jewish Historical Society of Long Island to preserve and digitize the decades-old scrapbooks found at Temple Beth-El of Bellmore, which closed in 2019.

Credit: Dawn McCormick

Three years after Temple Beth-El of Bellmore closed in 2019, a former member sifting through a trove of items struck "pure gold" when she discovered scrapbooks from the '50s to the '70s that capture the life and times of the synagogue.

Some of the most interesting pieces found in the shuttered synagogue are 10 scrapbooks containing decades-old photos, which Brad Kolodny, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Long Island, said were “pure gold.” His group is working with former members of the temple to preserve and digitize the items for the benefit of future generations.   

“They're just a fantastic time capsule,” Kolodny said. “Somebody thought enough of the history of the congregation to create scrapbooks. In the scrapbooks are everything, including newspaper articles, different flyers from events that they ran." 

The scrapbooks contain cutouts of Newsday clippings highlighting important milestones, such as the synagogue's groundbreaking and officer elections, along with the temple's calendar of events from the '50s. A pamphlet featuring a "musical extravaganza" advertised a 1958 performance of "Kiss Me Kate." A photo from February 1962 shows the congregation sitting at packed tables sharing a meal. 

The historical society gave the scrapbooks to LIU Post, which, through a $1.5 million grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, is helping community organizations with digitization. The university will begin digitizing the items next semester, said Greg Hunter, the professor spearheading the project. 

The scrapbooks were discovered by Nancy Kaplan of Wantagh, who joined Temple Beth-El circa 1988 and is a past shul president. She scoured “every nook and cranny to find things that we didn’t know were there” after the temple’s closure. Although it’s unclear who created the scrapbooks, Kaplan believes the books could be the handiwork of former member Anita Stark, a meticulous recordkeeper who died in September. Stark also appears in the scrapbook in a Newsday clipping showing her at the temple's groundbreaking. 

“In Judaism, we’re always passing on traditions and family traditions and cultural traditions and Jewish traditions,” Kaplan said. “I just felt any history that we can preserve to pass onto future generations... is so important, because I want the future generations to know what was.”

After the congregation was formed in 1952 and the temple built in 1958, some 700 families were in its congregation, said David Wayne, of North Bellmore. Wayne served in various leadership roles after joining the shul in 1987. The membership dwindled over the years, and when the temple closed, it served about 145 families. Rabbi Harvey Goldscheider’s death in 2007 was a loss of stability for the congregation and accelerated its declining membership, Wayne said. The temple eventually consolidated with an East Meadow synagogue to form the East Meadow Beth-El Jewish Center. 

“The shul was more than a place to come to pray, it was a community,” Wayne said. “No matter what, we are still to this day so sad to see it come to an end. It was truly a close-knit family, and that’s not just a platitude, we meant it.”

Wayne said he is proud that the legacy of Temple Beth-El and its congregation will live on through the preservation work. Synagogue members participated in marches in solidarity with Soviet Union Jews when the country wouldn’t let them emigrate to Israel, he said. The temple also safeguarded a torah that had been rescued from Europe during the Holocaust. 

“It’s so important to keep these institutions alive, and the fact that Temple Beth-El will still be alive in memory is a wonderful thing,” Wayne said.

Preserving history

A former member of Temple Beth-El of Bellmore discovered scrapbooks in the closed synagogue dating from the '50s to the '70s, which highlight what life looked like for Long Island Jews over the decades. The digitization project is a way to keep the legacy of Temple Beth-El alive, former members said. 

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