About Our Shul
Affectionately known as “Your Shul by the Sea,” Temple Beth-El is an all-inclusive, welcoming and independent (trans-denominational) congregation that has served Jews of all ages and their families for over 80 years. We are known for our joyful and haimish (warm) atmosphere, our music and our openly spiritual approach to Jewish life.
Temple Beth-El does not affiliate with any of the denominations, but honors the diversity of Jewish belief and practice. Women and men participate equally — as do couples, singles, and families. We affirm the full spiritual inheritance, participation and leadership of LGBTQ souls, people of color, and multi-racial and multi-faith families. Our members and friends hail from across the breadth of Jewish life: Conservative, Reform, Renewal and unaffiliated Jews make their spiritual home with us.
We receive and propagate the flow of Jewish spiritual renewal. This legacy flows through spiritual centers such as ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Bayit: Your Jewish Home, and the Academy for Jewish Religion, all of which have nourished and shaped us.
Our clergy are renowned for spirituality, welcoming warmth and contagious joy. Our band enfolds our events in exquisite music. Our vibrant education program combines the best of Jewish tradition with heart-based spirituality and modern innovation.
We choose our siddurim and machzorim (prayerbooks) deliberately to enfold all, regardless of religious or spiritual background. Our books are non-denominational in the flow of the ongoing renewal of Judaism beyond denominational boundaries. For details about upcoming services, please visit our shul calendar.
Our location, on Long Island Sound facing the New York City skyline, affords unique opportunities. There’s nothing like Shabbat by the Sea, an annual outdoor Shabbat service seaside facing the sunset. There’s nothing like doing Tashlish (a Rosh Hashanah ritual) just a block away at the beach. There’s nothing like crossing the bridge onto City Island, surrounded by boats and the waters, knowing that our ancestors — and, truly, all peoples throughout history — also had their seas to cross. We live our history deeply, right where we are.
Your Shul by the Sea is a special place. Join us!
The Synogogue’s History
The history of Temple Beth-El on City Island during the past 80 years is more than the story of a small house of worship in a small community. It’s also the story of a community that extended its assistance to help us get started and become an integral and contributing part of that community. Without the whole-hearted support of the churches, organizations and people of City Island, there would be no Temple Beth-El today. And, it’s a story about a small synagogue that draws national attention and participates in the renewal of Judaism.
“The Congregation Temple Beth-El” was founded in 1934 by 17 men of the Jewish faith. They met at the home of Mr. Jacob Katz on Orchard Street (now Hawkins Street). The men purchased a handful of prayer books and held services in members’ homes.
At first, only men were admitted to membership and permitted to hold office. Women were permitted to join as “associate” members and were encouraged to form a “Women’s Auxiliary.” Possibly anticipating the coming of the Women’s Lib movement, the following year saw the formation of a committee to investigate the possibility of an amalgamation of the two groups into one organization.
By 1936, the number of members increased and the congregation began renting space to hold services and meetings. The most popular location was a store at 385 City Island Avenue (which was also being used by the American Legion at that time.)
In February 1942, Temple Beth-El organized the first Jewish Religious School on City Island. Classes were held in the Methodist Church classrooms. By 1942, Temple Beth-El was well-established on City Island. Services during the year were led by individual members. On the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur a Rabbi was obtained, usually a recently ordained student of the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York.
It was also in 1942 that the members felt that the role of the organized Jewish community should be more than a solely religious one. Occasionally, individuals and families were experiencing problems and needed guidance or other assistance. Some members felt that Jewish culture and tradition were being ignored.
Also, World War II was upon us and the Jewish Community felt it had a responsibility to aid in the war effort along with the other City Island organizations. Thus, in October, 1942, the Temple began to widen its scope of activities and officially changed its name to the City Island Jewish Center.
With the end of the war, there was a further increase in the number of Jewish residents and serious consideration was being given to acquiring land on which to build a temple. Fund raising efforts were instituted, such as bazaars, card parties, dances, etc., and, in 1947, a parcel of land was purchased. Also, in that same year, the name of the organization was changed back to Temple Beth-El of City Island.
Services continued to be held in various locations, including the Methodist Church meeting rooms, the Masonic Temple, and the American Legion Hall. Finally, in 1956, the dream became reality as ground was broken for the erection of a Temple building on City Island Avenue.
In September 1957, a large gathering of City Islanders joined with local and city dignitaries as dedication ceremonies officially opened our new Temple. Since then, Temple Beth-El at 480 City Island Avenue has been our home, providing us not only a sanctuary for worship but also a center of Jewish education and a meeting place for social and cultural activities.
We have never forgotten the thoughtfulness and cooperation shown us by our many friends of the community throughout the years when we had no permanent home as well as today when we hold fund raising activities.
In the same spirit, our Temple has hosted such groups as the City Island Civic Association, CIVAC (City Island Volunteer Ambulance Corps, now disbanded), the Girl Scouts, etc. After the unfortunate fire that gutted the Masonic Hall, the Temple became the temporary meeting hall of the Masons and the Eastern Stars.
In recent years, Temple Beth-El has fully embraced our trans-denominational heritage while serving as a “training synagogue” for the Jewish Renewal movement. We also have received national attention through trans-denominational groups such as Rabbis Without Borders, national Jewish bloggers such as Velveteen Rabbi, and an especially helpful Twitter post from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff when our beloved synagogue was vandalized in 2011.
Temple Beth-El of City Island is proud of its decades of community-building on City Island and across greater New York and the blogosphere. We look forward to many more years of cooperation and partnership as we work together to discern and fulfill God’s will for all.