Rabbi Alan Abraham Kay of East Meadow had deeply touched many families who worshipped with him during his 12-year tenure at Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai.
A towering figure, literally and figuratively, he led the 100-family temple with distinction before retiring in 2010. He had a fondness for kissing and hugging his congregants, each of whom he knew by name.
It was that warm spirit coupled with his steady stewardship of a young and growing temple that made Kay popular and respected among lay people and clergy alike all across Long Island.
Kay, a Brooklyn native who was inspired to become a rabbi after a 30-year tenure as an English professor, died of lung cancer Wednesday at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 69.
"He was a man who taught you what a rabbi does," said Rabbi Helayne Shalhevet, a former student of Kay's wife, Jo, who succeeded him as spiritual leader at Temple Beth Emeth, a Reform congregation. "A rabbi cares about each congregant and takes a personal interest in each of their lives. That's one of the greatest lessons I learned from him."
Kay was adored as much for his character as his charisma, his family calling him "exceptionally giving, and kind, funny, warm, loving, dedicated, curious and passionate."
Born in Brownsville on July 7, 1943, to Milton and Rose Kay, he lived in several Brooklyn neighborhoods and attended local schools.
The young scholar married the former Josephine D'Amico on June 19, 1966.
Ten years later, the Kays settled in East Meadow.
Kay taught English for more than 30 years at New York College of Technology, where he was also founding editor of a faculty journal, Perspectives, and co-founder of the Mickey Leland-Ivan Tillem Peace Studies Seminar.
Kay penned a book in 1993, "A Jewish Book of Comfort"; in its afterword, he said that he wrote it "as a companion to the bereaved and to those who seek to console the bereaved."
He came to Temple Beth Emeth as a student rabbi in 1998 and was ordained at the Academy for Jewish Religion in May 2001.
In June 2010 when he became rabbi emeritus, he looked back on his time at the helm of the temple: "I have loved being your rabbi. From the moment I stepped into our temple building in the spring of 1998 for my interview with the search committee, I knew I was at home and I was happy."
Besides his wife, Kay is survived by his daughters, Corinne Kyriacou and Lisa Tzah of Plainview and Adina Kay-Gross of Brooklyn; and a sister, Barbara Levine of Ossining.