In 1941, ten families with a shared commitment to creating a home for Conservative Judaism in Great Neck purchased a house at 10 Preston Road. With a little work -- bedrooms became classrooms, the living room became a sanctuary with 225 seats donated by a nearby movie theater owner -- Temple Israel was "in business."
Within a few months, regular Friday evening and Saturday morning services were in full swing. Within a few years, the new synagogue was cramped for space. In October 1947 ground was broken for a new building on a 2-1/2 acre plot of land on Old Mill Road – the present site of Temple Israel. Construction began in October in 1948, and the building was completed just in time for the 1949 High Holy Days.
In August 1947, Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, z”l, came to Temple Israel beginning what would ultimately be more than a half-century of service. He and his wife Ruth devoted themselves to synagogue and community affairs. He was joined in June 1950 by Cantor Benjamin Siegel who served the synagogue with distinction until his retirement in 1984.
As the synagogue grew, so did the Hebrew School and the Hebrew High School. In 1955, the property adjoining the synagogue was purchased for a "Youth House." High school classes along with some elementary classes were transferred there as were all youth social activities, meetings, and gatherings.
In December 1959, the congregation approved plans for a new addition. Completed in 1961, this two-story structure features a large auditorium/ballroom, catering facilities, classrooms and offices. The new building also permitted the start of a nursery school. From an initial enrollment of 15, it currently serves over 150 children.
By 1968, the Youth House was bursting at the seams. A new Youth House was erected on the site behind the old one in 1970. Now known as the Waxman Youth House, it continues to provide an exceptional educational environment with 15 classrooms, a youth lounge, a multi-purpose/recreational hall, a chapel, kitchens, an administrative wing, an audio-visual center, and a large, comfortable library.
Over the years, Temple Israel has been the site of extraordinary events, including a performance in 1965 by internationally-known opera star (and Temple Israel member!) Richard Tucker and speeches by former Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
Rabbi Howard A. Stecker joined Temple Israel as Senior Rabbi in 2003. Under his leadership Temple Israel has entered a new era with members joining in every age category. His family has become an integral part of the community, and members have come to rely on him for all life cycle events. Cantor Raphael Frieder, an internationally-acclaimed hazzan whose voice has been heard worldwide, came to Temple Israel in 1991. In addition to leading Shabbat and holiday services, he also tutors students in preparation for b’nai mitzvah and organizes musical events throughout the year.
Today, Temple Israel of Great Neck is the spiritual home to close to 800 families with services and activities that cater to long-standing members, young families, and children of all ages. With a rich history and an exciting future, Temple Israel continues to carry out the vision of its original founders and stands out as one of the premier congregations in the Conservative movement.