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Get to Know Community Synagogue of Rye

Learn more about Community Synagogue of Rye's Mission, History of the Past, and the Leaders who have guided us to where we are today.

Our Mission • Our History • Our Past Leadership

"The synagogue is where Jews are made, where the individual soul and the community are joined. It is the place where modernity and eternity cross-fertilize, where seeds of Jewish identity are sown. All other institutions in Jewish life are created by Jews. Only the synagogue creates Jews, child by child, family by family…”

Rabbi Alexander Schindler z”l

President Union for Reform Judaism, 1973-1996

At Community Synagogue of Rye, our mission is to be a caring Jewish community that adds meaning and purpose to your life. This means our focus is on relationships. We care about the people we seek to engage. We want to listen to your stories, to share ours and to join together to build a Jewish community that enriches our lives.

Learn more about our vision on our Membership page.

Our Mission • Our History • Our Past Leadership

One Sunday in early autumn 1948, at a time when there were very few Jews living in Rye, 7-year-old Betty Wolder asked her parents if she could go to church with her friend Susan who was Christian. Her parents explained that since they were Jewish and did not belong to Susan’s church, she could not attend. Betty continued to ask questions and her parents wanted to give her better answers.

The Wolders contacted the few Jewish people they knew in Rye about forming a Jewish religious school, and a sponsoring group of families met in October. With the help of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism), they organized a meeting for Dec. 1, 1948 to discuss plans for the formation of a Sunday school and a “Liberal Jewish Congregation”. Invitations were mailed to a broader group and a news release placed in the local paper. They were to meet at Rye’s recreation center at 51 Milton Road, now The Rye Arts Center. About 60 people showed up, many of whom knew one another but had not known they shared a religion.

The response was extraordinarily positive and the rest is history. The group resolved that the school’s opening session would be 12 days later. Beechwood School, in a mansion at what is now the corner of Forest Avenue and Hook Road, was the first venue with 10 students. Various organizing committees were established, including one for a synagogue.  In January 1949, the membership considered nine names and decided on Community Synagogue. 

The first religious services were held Friday evening, February 4, also at Beechwood.  It turned out to be a community inter-faith event as well  — The Rye Methodist and Presbyterian Churches donated a pulpit and a brass candelabra for the Sabbath candle lighting. Other local churches also expressed support.  In March a congregational meeting was held at which Maurice Hahn was elected the first president.

Through the assistance of Jack and Helen Carner and others, a beautiful mansion - built in 1903 at 200 Forest Avenue - was purchased in June of 1950. It was the seven-acre Barron estate, Villa Aurora, with magnificent rooms that came to house both the synagogue and the school. 

Rabbi Samuel H. Gordon, an experienced, widely traveled liberal Rabbi, was hired as the first spiritual leader in 1950, and Community Synagogue grew and flourished. Many people had the joy of attending worship services as visitors in the old mansion. They described the very warm feeling found when worshipping in the mansion’s magnificent living room.

Soon, Community Synagogue had almost 200 families as members and they could no longer be contained in the mansion. In 1961, a new structure was erected adjacent to the mansion to house the sanctuary, social hall and some religious school classrooms. The mansion became largely a school building. Members at that time were part of a very proud congregation that was worshipping in its new sanctuary for the very first time on the High Holy days.  

By then, there was a full-time Rabbi and a Cantor, a religious school director, one custodial family who resided on the top floor of the mansion, one secretary and one bookkeeper, but the congregation relied heavily on volunteers. Many treasured friendships were formed as individuals worked on committees.

The prayer book then in use had language that sounds stilted today and little Hebrew was spoken in services. Ladies were mostly involved with Sisterhood and participated as committee members. Although most women were stay-at-home mothers, the very few who were on the Board happened to be working women, juggling work, home, family, and synagogue duties.  Over time there has been a transition to the current high rate of women, working and not, participating in volunteer and leadership positions (including several serving as synagogue president).

After the retirement of Rabbi Gordon, in June 1966, Rabbi Robert A. Rothman became the spiritual leader and was the driving force for 31 years. Under his expert guidance and leadership, the synagogue flourished, receiving several awards for the nursery school and the library. A social action committee was initiated and Community Synagogue took a leadership role in interfaith activities with other houses of worship in Rye. In addition to the traditional bar mitzvah when a Jewish boy arrives at the age of religious responsibility, bat mitzvahs for Jewish girls became more common.  A Saturday morning worship service was added that featured study of the Torah (the five books of Moses) as a dialogue between the Rabbi and the congregants.

The first of many congregational trips to Israel was in 1970, followed by youth trips there beginning in 1972. In 1974, the sanctuary was expanded and classrooms added.  A major beautification of the sanctuary took place in 1985. As the congregation continued to grow, they held double services for some High Holy Days, while others were held in the Rye Town Hilton and more recently at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College.

On June 30, 1997, Rabbi Rothman retired and became Rabbi Emeritus. Rabbi Rachel S. Mikva became Community Synagogue’s third spiritual leader. She helped the congregation adjust to two major changes: a new rabbi after 31 years and use of more Hebrew in worship service, reflecting changes in the Reform movement. In 2002, Rabbi Mikva decided to return to academia.    

Rabbi Daniel Gropper became the fourth spiritual leader of the congregation in July 2003. He energized the congregation to become a Shabbat-centered congregation and to initiate a number of new projects, such as a committee to focus on the needs of the ill or home-bound, a program for senior citizens, more family-based education, the formation of a “Green Team” and the revitalization of the youth club. In 2003, the Barron mansion was demolished and a new educational building was opened for use in the fall of 2004.  A new prayer book was introduced with more modern English, more gender-neutral language and more Hebrew. 

Over the past decade, as the synagogue has continued to grow and expand, so too has the dedicated and dynamic professional staff. Cantor Melanie Cooperman and Rabbi Leora Frankel were welcomed with open arms to join our clergy team in 2011 and 2012, respectively, alongside Rabbi Gropper. Rabbi Frankel left Community Synagogue after 9 years of creating innovative learning and prayer experiences from the ECC learners to the members of SAJE.

From 60 individuals and 10 students in 1948, the congregation is now around 500 families and over 300 students from Rye, and several communities between Greenwich and White Plains. In addition to the clergy, Community Synagogue of Rye maintains a strong professional staff led by Executive Director Glynis Conyer, CJL Director Amy Rosenbaum, ECC Director Dale Oberlander, and Director of Youth Engagement Maya Parness.

Community Synagogue of Rye has an ambitious education program for both children and adults, numerous opportunities to become involved in social action, beautiful worship services, and life cycle celebrations. Our enthusiastic and active committees help make our synagogue a dynamic and caring community.

Our Mission • Our History • Our Past Leadership

*Maurice Hahn (1948-1949)

*Jack Carner (1949-1952)

*Frederick H. Block (1952-1955)

*Milton M. Enzer (1955-1956)

*Herbert Millman (1956-1958)

*Henry R. Jacoby (1958-1960)

*Milton P. Gitenstein (1960-1962)

*Dr. Jack Kabcenell (1962-1964)

*Mortimer Patchen (1964-1966)

*Victor R. Wolder (1966-1968)

* Ely Kushel (1968-1970)

*Daniel Beaton (1970-1972)

Fred. G. Ronai (1972-1974)

*Sidney M. Miller (1974-1976)

David W. Sampliner (1976-1978)

*Betty Seicol (1978-1980)

*Miriam Bernstein (1980-1982)

Francis Fraenkel (1982-1984)

*Jay I. Schwab (1984-1986)

Ron Cohen (1986-1988)

*Sel Hubert (1988-1990)

Paul Elliot (1990-1992)

*Gus Uhry (1992-1994)

Jay Greenfield (1994-1996)

Gilbert A. Wang (1996-1998)

*Michael I. Stolzar (1998-2000)

Janet F. Meyers (2000-2002)

Sanford Goldstein (2002-2004)

Judy Greenfield (2004-2006)

David Hessekiel (2006-2008)

Susan Rudolph (2008-2010)

Alan Shepard (2010-2012)

Karen Cherney Zaltz (2012-2014)

*​Gerald Cohen (2014-2016)

​Laurie Frolich (2016-2018)

Susan Zeitlin (2018 – 2020)

Irene Metz (2020-2022)

Jackie Cohen Kabot (2022-present)

Josh Broitman (2022-present)


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