The story of Hanukkah, which commemorates the rededication of an ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, takes on a more poignant meaning for the congregants of Temple Tikvah this year as they work to rebuild their place of worship that was devastated by remnants of Hurricane Ida.
When Ida lashed Long Island in early September, it caused significant damage at the New Hyde Park Reform Jewish temple. Some parts of the building, at 3315 Hillside Ave., were under close to four feet of water, causing damage to the walls, ruining the building's boiler system and destroying chairs and desks, among other items. When temple officials arrived the next day, they said they felt as if they were "walking on glass" because of the light reflecting on the water.
"It was completely unprecedented," said Rabbi Randy Sheinberg, the congregation's leader. "It’s just overwhelming. The emotional effects and the physical damage."
The temple sustained an estimated cost of $1 million worth in damages, officials said, and staff and congregants hope to raise enough funding to rebuild their beloved temple. Congregation leaders have created an online fundraiser to help with the cost. They've sent out letters to current and former members in hopes of receiving donations. Without additional funding, Comerchero said, they may have to sell the building.
The temple, which has a membership of 225 families, housed several programs including after-school classes for children, book clubs and religious services. The space also was rented out to a local caterer, which was another source of revenue for the temple.
Andrea Comerchero, the temple’s president, said the remediation efforts, which includes the removal of mold and asbestos, has cost the temple about $1 million. To rebuild the facility, she added, it would cost an additional $2 million, according to estimates she’s received. The project would include new walls, a boiler, pews, and new plumbing and electricity, among other fixes.
The temple’s endowment fund, which covers its operation cost, is rapidly depleting, Comerchero said. Along with yearly membership dues, the temple has received several donations from current and former congregants as well as a $500 donation from the Lakeville Estates Civic Association to purchase new prayer books.
"The temple reached out to us because many of the expenditures they’re going to have are not covered by insurance," said Bill Cutrone, the association’s president.
The check was presented to the temple Sunday at the association’s menorah lighting, where they also collected an additional $150 in donations for the temple.
Insurance has covered some of the rebuilding costs, temple officials said. In September, the temple also applied to Federal Emergency Management Agency for funds to help alleviate the burden.
"We’re hopeful that some way, somehow, we will get the money to rebuild the building and come back and be together as a community," Comerchero, 48, of New Hyde Park said.
Meetings and religious services are currently held on Zoom or at nearby temples including Lake Success Jewish Center and Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn.
"So we’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to still come together as a congregation, but we miss being in our building. We miss being together as a whole congregation," Sheinberg said.
The word Tikvah means "hope" in Hebrew and Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, gives the temple's leadership hope that they'll be able to rededicate their temple sometime in the next year.
The building at 3315 Hillside Ave., which now houses Temple Tikvah, was built in 1952 for Temple Emanuel of New Hyde Park. In 2008, Temple Emanuel and Temple Israel of Jamaica merged to create Temple Tikvah. Shortly after the consolidation, the facility was remodeled for a more "friendly and casual" feel.