The Reform Temple of Forest Hills started out as four congregations which consolidated in 1994. Two well-established Reform Temples, both in Forest Hills merged first, followed by two smaller congregations the next year. Here’s how it happened…
It started with Temple Isaiah in 1935 – a group of friends involved in charitable causes in Kew Gardens wanted their own local Reform Temple. They bought a house on Kessel Street for services, and by 1952 built a very traditional building on Grand Central Parkway service road, which, by the early nineties had major maintenance problems, the worst was a roof leaking into the sanctuary.
In 1956 comes a congregational split resulting in the formation of Temple Sinai. Their first services were held at the Forest Hills Inn, in Station Square, and held Sunday school classes at the First Presbyterian Church on the next block to where we are, while raising money and building what is now our home. After some time, the congregation began to shrink and could not sustain itself.
Discussions began with ground rules that all decisions had to be unanimous. Among those decisions were choosing the rabbi – Rabbi Perelmuter from Temple Isaiah and cantor – Cary Schwartz from Temple Sinai. New location – here.
The next merger was Congregation Beth Hillel, founded in 1960, in Jackson Heights, originally met in congregants’ homes, and then in a storefront on Northern Blvd. After six years they purchased a houseand by 1968 they had High Holiday services in their own building. It was a small but intimate congregation. As membership declined, they went Temple shopping, and visited every Reform congregation for miles around. Our Reform Temple won hands down, and after an easy negotiation and a warm welcome the deed was done.
A similar story at Temple Emanu-El. Started in 1948, they had many homes in the early years. Services were at a Masonic Hall, Sunday school was at Lost Battalion Hall, and the Jewish War Veterans gave them space for meetings. Eventually they bought an old movie theater in Elmhurst, and converted it into an appropriate space for all their needs in 1955. But there again neighborhood changes caused the membership to dwindle. Along came our Reform Temple and the rest is history.
We blended the congregants of four congregations into one, a task requiring much wisdom and diplomacy. Fortunately, those skills were on hand in abundance in the person of our Rabbi, combined with a universal determination on the part of every congregant to make us stronger than the sum of our parts.
So here we are, now a vibrant, active congregation, with myriad activities, a terrific educational program that runs our age gamut, and of primary importance, wonderful religious guidance and spiritual support.