Temple Israel of Great Neck will mark 10 years of rabbinic leadership by Rabbi Howard Stecker and his wife, Deanna, when the couple is honored at the congregation’s 49th annual journal dinner dance, to be held Saturday evening, Dec.7.
“This will be an opportunity for both the Great Neck and the larger Jewish community to join the Temple Israel community to thank the Steckers for their efforts,” said Temple Israel President Alan Klinger. “They have taken us to a new place as a congregation and we all have reason to show our appreciation.”
The Steckers, along with their three sons, Joshua, Daniel and Zachary, moved to Great Neck in 2003. Rabbi Stecker had previously served the Jewish Community Center of West Hempstead, and for four years prior was the assistant rabbi at the Shelter Rock Jewish Center, Roslyn. He succeeded the late Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, who was the spiritual leader of Temple Israel for 55 years.
Mrs. Stecker is the coordinator of learning support at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan. Passionate about issues of special education in the Jewish community, she has been involved in a number of aspects of Temple Israel life, particularly development of the synagogue’s new website.
Looking back at their tenure, the Steckers said they see a very bright future for Temple Israel. “The Great Neck community continues to crave a fully egalitarian approach to Judaism that reflects the best that Judaism and modernity have to offer,” Rabbi Stecker said. “At Temple Israel we embrace both with equal passion.”
Reflecting on a sense of accomplishment and looking ahead to an exciting future, Rabbi Stecker said “Yes, we do have a very bright future at Temple Israel. We will not look like the Temple Israel of a generation ago, and we shouldn’t. We must work hard to strengthen our synagogue as the place in the community where Jews of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds, find both old and new ways to live meaningfully as American Jews.”
A journal, being published in coordination with the dinner dance, will offer an opportunity for the greater community, along with the Temple Israel membership, to express personal messages to the Steckers in their ads, according to dinner dance co-chair Andrew Bloom: “This journal will give everyone a way to express their personal appreciation.”
Steven Markowitz was president of Temple Israel from 2001-2003, the period of Rabbi Waxman’s retirement and passing, and the search and ultimate selection of Rabbi Stecker as the permanent senior rabbi of the congregation.
“I remember how ironic it was that for two years we literally searched all over the world for a new rabbi who could meet our standards and expectations, and how we wound up hiring someone from down the road,” he said. “From the first sermon delivered to the congregation during the search period, and he and Deanna’s interactions with the Board of Trustees and membership, we knew we had the right man for the job, and time has certainly validated our choice.”
Information about the dinner dance, as well as advertising in the journal, is available by calling Temple Israel at 482-7800. Temple Israel of Great Neck, the region’s largest Conservative egalitarian Jewish congregation, is located at 108 Old Mill Road.
“This is a unique community because of its diversity and its degree of sophistication about Judaism and other matters,” Rabbi Stecker said. “It is challenging in many ways.”
But, is it what they expected before they moved to Great Neck?
“We expected the sophistication. The community is definitely more diverse than West Hempstead. And, we found the community very embracing of our family, too,” Rabbi Stecker said.
“What is challenging is charting a course for so many people from diverse backgrounds across the generation span. There are many groups looking for stimulation, wanting to engage and be engaged. It is definitely demanding,” he said. “But, it is a very fulfilling part of my rabbinate to make Judaism relevant to so many. I want people to understand that Judaism can improve the way they live their lives and also have a positive impact on the world. It is also useful to break down barriers between different groups and to encourage a more relaxed, less formal atmosphere. We have sponsored events such as concerts in the park, Hanukkah parties open to the community, participation in New York City’s Israel Day Parade, discussions in people’s homes, and the annual September 11th service at the Saddle Rock Bridge. We have to continue to find creative ways to elevate people’s lives through Jewish learning and living.”
Now, with their youngest son attending college, the Steckers said they are empty-nesters. “It is amazing how quickly the years have gone by,” Mrs. Stecker said. “Great Neck has definitely become our home, and Temple Israel has truly become our congregation.”