Erev Shabbat, September 16, 2016 / 14 Elul, 5776
by Elayne Candiotte
This blog is written in loving memory of my Dad, who would have turned 90 today, and to my Mom who was the love of his life, who loved and supported him, her family and friends, and any person or animal in need.
On the eve before Shabbat/Tisha b’Av I received an email invitation to Sam Bravo's Bar Mitzvah. I was happy to be invited, but as I read further, I became thrilled to learn that the service and celebration would be at the Bethpage Multicultural Community Center, formerly the Bethpage Jewish Community Center (BJCC), my former synagogue. The timing of the invitation was uncanny because, in my mind, I have always equated Tisha b’Av and the sadness of losing the Temple in Jerusalem with the loss of our local temple here in Bethpage.
Two weeks later I set out to attend the Friday night Shabbat service before Sam's Bar Mitzvah, not knowing what to expect. I had never attended a Makom event or even met Rabbi Bravo prior to Sam's Bar Mitzvah. I didn't anticipate how personal this event would be for me. As I approached the parking lot of the Bethpage Multicultural Center, tears filled my eyes. I could not believe what I was seeing - the parking lot of the former BJCC was filled to capacity for a Jewish service. This was the first time in over nine years there was a Jewish presence here, and it was something I never thought I would see again in my lifetime.
For those unfamiliar with the history, BJCC was a small, warm and welcoming traditional Conservation congregation. It is the community I grew up in and where I spent most holidays and many family simchas. It is also where I had my first taste and memory of Judaism, decades ago, at a summer Friday night Shabbat service, held outdoors because there was no A/C yet. Interesting how the Makom community also joins together for outdoor Shabbat services in the summer.
As times and demographics changed, BJCC's membership declined, as was the case in many Long Island Jewish communities. During Hanukah in December, 2006, the BJCC members voted to close the synagogue and merge with another congregation. The doors of the temple closed after Shavuot in June of 2007. For many in the Bethpage community this loss was devastating. Some members sold their homes and moved out of the community, others joined various other synagogues.
For my Dad, of blessed memory, these were not options, and he suffered greatly because of the loss. He and my Mom (also of blessed memory) had been members for nearly 50 years. When my Dad became a widower in 2003 and suffered from declining health, BJCC became even more important. It offered him solace and support, friendship, and a community with whom he could celebrate all holidays. Equally important was BJCC's proximity to his home and complete handicap accessibility. It remained the one place my Dad was able to get to, navigate, and participate in independently.
I was fortunate to be able to attend both the Friday night and Shabbat morning services of Sam Bravo’s Bar Mitzvah, as well as the celebratory kiddush luncheon at Makom's new Bethpage center. The services were a little different from the traditional ones back at BJCC and from my own personal practice; nonetheless, they were joyous, inclusive and exuberant. The prayers were in Hebrew, the Torah was read, meaningful Shabbat messages were spoken, and the service was Jewish!
I have heard it said that G-d answers all prayers even though the answers may not be the exact ones we asked for. In this case G-d did answer our prayers, yet with different timing and in a different form. The renewal of the Bethpage Jewish Community has come in the form of Makom. It did not return at Hanukah, but years later on Rosh Chodesh Elul, as we prepare for the New Year and rebirth. I have heard that Elul is a time when we are able to feel G-d's presence in the world. That is what I felt in witnessing this rebirth. Thank you to Rabbi Bravo, Sam, the Bravo family, and the community of Makom for bringing this wonderful renewal to Bethpage. May you continue to grow in strength and flourish for many years to come! Am Yisrael Chai!