Our History

History of North Country Reform Temple – Ner Tamid, Glen Cove, New York


In 1955, the nearest Reform synagogue to Glen Cove, New York was Temple Sinai in Roslyn.  Alvin Rubin, then rabbi of the Roslyn congregation recommended to 30 of the 40 families in his congregation to meet at the household of congregant Paul Ressler to discuss planning a new Reform congregation.  Assisted by Rabbi Daniel Davis and Cantor Albert Baum from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), at that time called the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the congregation held its first independent service at Friends Academy on Duck Pond Road.  About 100 people attended that memorable Shabbat service on February 10, 1956 in the Academy’s lower school auditorium.  Mildred Feingold played the piano and Rabbi Davis and Cantor Robert Spiro officiated.  The following week, UAHC assigned former Army Chaplain Milton Schlager as the congregation’s first permanent rabbi for what was to initially be for just a few months (he stayed until illness forced his departure in 1959).  On March 8, 1956, Kal Macklin, who was among the original congregants who met at the Ressler household, was elected president of the congregation and Ressler was elected vice president.  At the time of the High Holidays, the congregation numbered 100 and was offered worship space from Carpenter Methodist, the Masonic Temple (which housed our mobile ark), Friends Academy, and the local Neighborhood House.


In searching for a permanent home, the congregation briefly considered the “Reynolds” property, however, the price of $275,000 put it out of reach.  In the end, a 4.5-acre estate located on Crescent Beach Road was purchased for $55,000 which included a half-century old home owned by an accountant named Herrick.  The white pillared building often was referred to as our “castle in the woods.”


On Sunday, May 19, 1957 the congregation, now 120 families held services consecrating the building as North Country Reform Temple.  In the next year, work was performed to convert the home to a synagogue: the porch was enclosed and combined with three front rooms to form the sanctuary.


In 1959, Rabbi Schlager resigned his position for health reasons an Rabbi Alton Winters was selected to replace him.  During Rabbi Winters’ 12-year tenure, NCRT underwent a number of changes.  Rabbi Winters conducted services which reflected his classic Reform Judaism training.  He was an excellent speaker and was appreciated for the intellectual content of his sermons.  He established advanced study groups based upon the particular interests of members of the congregation.  Confirmation classes were formed and our students were encouraged to continue their religious studies.  Although membership fluctuated, the number of families remained consistent with a core group of reliable and hardworking congregants.  In 1971, Rabbi Winters felt the need to move on and, with the blessing of the congregation, left Glen Cove for Florida.


Rabbi Morton Kaplan and his family joined our congregation in September 1972.  Rabbi Kaplan continued the traditional Reform Judaism practiced during Rabbi Winters’ tenure.  He was very interested in the musical aspects of the service, and along with Cantor Harold Firestone, encouraged the congregation and its children to participate in newer adaptations of traditional songs and prayers.  Rabbi Kaplan was well-liked by congregants for his interest and compassion not only to members, but to their extended families.  In early 1974, the Kaplans moved out of New York.


That year brought Rabbi Laurance Kotok to NCRT as its fourth rabbi.  Over the course of his 22-year tenure, he began introducing elements of traditional Judaic practice and ritual.  He worked with both Cantor Firestone, and subsequently with a series of cantorial students and cantorial soloists, adding more Hebrew to the liturgy and a diversity of music to the service.


In 1978, NCRT elected its first woman president, Susan Cort.  That same year, the sanctuary was enlarged.  In 1982, the temple’s kitchen was renovated as part of a 3-year renovation project and named in memory of Sylvia Svonkin, a longtime member and Sisterhood president.


Shortly thereafter, however, a maintenance accident set fire to the synagogue during the early evening hours of February 17, 1982.  The blaze raced through the building and despite the efforts of firefighters, the entire building was destroyed, with the exception of a single column, which stands at the front of the new building.  Still reeling from the devastation, dozens of congregants crowded the home of temple president Harold Berkowitz, and along with Rabbi Kotok plans were put in place to rebuild and to keep the congregation intact.


The outpouring of aid from our community enabled all temple activities to continue over the two years it took to construct the new building.  Congregation Tefereth Israel, the nearby conservative synagogue offered the use of its lower-level sanctuary for services and life-cycle events.  The religious school was housed at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Highland Road.  High Holiday services were held at New York Institute of Technology and the following year at C.W. Post college, both in Greenvale.  Scholar-In-residence weekends were continued at Sea Cliff Methodist Church, and Passover Seders were held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Roslyn.  During this period, the NCRT office operated from a trailer located in the parking lot of the destroyed building.


In the meantime, a fundraising campaign was launched, and financial support began pouring in from other congregations, civic groups, foundations, and individuals, both Jewish and Christian.  An architect and contractor were selected, and the offices were moved from the parking lot to the Village Square in downtown Glen Cove.


Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on August 21, 1983, and on February 10, 1985, NCRT’s new home was dedicated during a most memorable ceremony.  Rabbi Kotok, president Joseph Saxl, immediate past president Wally Green and other temple officers lead a procession of congregants and their families through the snow-covered streets of Glen Cove to the new synagogue.  The procession walked past St. Paul’s Church where children of our religious school who were attending there joined the group, and then continued on to Congregation Tefereth Israel where we reclaimed our Torah scrolls which had survived the fire, and then finally to the new building.  Five days later, the first Shabbat service was held in the new sanctuary, and the temple was formally dedicated in May when the congregation added Ner Tamid (“Eternal Light”) as our Hebrew name.  Henceforth, the congregation was known as North Country Reform Temple – Ner Tamid.


Rabbi Kotok continued as rabbi until 1996 when he accepted a position with a Rochester, NY synagogue.  Rabbi Kotok was replaced by Rabbi Dr. Janet B. Liss, marking both the first woman to serve the congregation, and the first member of the LGBTQ community to ever knowingly head a mainstream congregation.  Rabbi Liss previously served as the rabbi for the Reform congregation Temple Kol Ami in Florida.  Under her tutelage, the congregation developed a reputation among reform synagogues as a desired placement for student cantors, cantorial soloists, and cantor/educators, many of whom secured positions in many of the most prestigious reform synagogues in the United States.  During her 26-year tenure, many changes and new programs were created including extensive social action and justice programming including Mitzvah Day, yearly Purim spiels, congregational trips to Israel and Cuba, adult bar/bat mitzvah and adult confirmation classes, and the addition of Tashlich to our High Holiday observances.  Educational programs were greatly expanded including religious education and Tuesdays with the Rabbi.  Rabbi Liss retired in 2022 and serves as Rabbi Emerita.  Rabbi Michael Churgel, RJE currently serves as Interim Rabbi.



Revised and Updated: May 2023