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In Northeast Queens, ‘Tradition And Change’ at Conservative Synagoge

On November 12, 2009 by Sharon

In Northeast Queens, ‘Tradition And Change’ at Conserv Syn

Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin is trying to revive Israel Center’s youth while tending to her aging flock. Michael Datikash

Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin is trying to revive Israel Center’s youth while tending to her aging flock. Michael Datikash

by Sharon Udasin
Staff Writer

Claire Heymann, an Auschwitz survivor who grew up in a strictly Orthodox home in Germany, had a bit of trouble adjusting to the idea of an egalitarian synagogue.
But a female rabbi? Don’t ask.

About five years ago, when northeastern Queens shul memberships began to dwindle and local purse strings tightened, Heymann’s traditional “Conservadox” synagogue, the Israel Center of Hillcrest Manor, made the decision to merge with two other local congregations — the Electchester Jewish Center and the Conservative Synagogue of Jamaica Estates. Together, they formed the fully egalitarian Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Flushing Meadows, which now has a total of approximately 265 families.

In making the decision to merge, “We had to make a choice, [so] that we shouldn’t sell the synagogue to a Korean church,” said Heymann, 85.

After the merger came the big change. Last summer, the Israel Center hired a female rabbi — the first female rabbi at any Conservative synagogue in Queens.

Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin, who will be officially installed by the temple board on Sunday, has changed the minds and won the hearts of many aging synagogue members who, like Heymann, say they were skeptical of having a woman as their leader.

“When [the synagogue] went egalitarian, I had a tough time. When I heard that we were going to get a woman rabbi, that bothered me,” Heymann said, noting that 27 members were vehemently against hiring Rabbi Bodzin because of her relatively young age, 35, and gender. “All I can tell you [is that] I love her now,” Heymann said. “I have a very good connection with her.”  Continue reading…

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