Port Jewish Center Celebrates 50 Years

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The PJC’s annual Turkey Trot table. Coffee, hot cocoa and oranges was served to the runners. (photo courtesy of PJC)

What started out as a small group of families wanting to create a religious community for generations to come has developed, nearly 50 years later, into a tight-knit congregation of more than 100 families. The Port Jewish Center (PJC), a Reform Synagogue affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, is coming up on their 50 year anniversary this year.
“Somehow we’ve been not only able to keep our doors open but really thrive for five decades, which is really extraordinary,” Rabbi Alysa Mendelson said.

The PJC has a bit of a unique history, having had only women rabbi’s since PJC’s inception.
“They’ve only had women rabbis here, not by design but just by coincidence,” Mendelson said. “The entire history of our synagogue, the rabbi’s have been women. So all the children who have grown up here have had women as their Jewish women as their professional role models. I think that really reflects what an exceptional community this is.”

Members of the PJC are heavily involved in giving back to the community, often finding opportunities to volunteer within the Port Washington area. They provide ministry support to Our Lady of Fatima’s food pantry several times a year, holding several food drives where the proceeds help out Port Washington families in need. Several members of the congregation are also active on various boards and clubs within the community.

“The Port Jewish Center is a collection of families who want to be part of a place that feels like home and feels like family,” Mendelson said. “There is a tremendous diversity in our membership, we have a lot of interfaith families and our goal is to make Judaism feel like a sensory experience, something you feel with all of your senses.”

When the pandemic hit Long Island severely earlier this year, the tight-knit community rallied around one another to make sure each of the congregants had what they needed during the pandemic.

“In the early days it was just making sure our older homebound congregants had access to the basics, making sure they knew about InstaCart, just making sure they understood how to use the technology, things like zoom so they could be connected. Our number one goal during the pandemic was to make sure that everyone had the support and the resources that they needed. We’ve upped our game in terms of our opportunities for learning, for being social, our shabbat services. People have been showing up to our Shabbat services on Zoom in much higher numbers than they typically would come on a regular Friday night. We have a lot of people who just stay on after our services just to connect with one another. It’s all about connecting and making sure people feel connected and that they know that they are not alone, and to continue to create Jewish memories for people.”

Although the pandemic put a lot of the events that were planned for the 50 year celebration on hold as large gatherings are not permitted at this time, the PJC still plans to continue their celebration, holding some of their larger events at a later time.

“I have said that our Jubilee year will last until we can properly celebrate it,” Mendelson said. “God willing it will be sooner rather than later. We are planning to have a gala, and we know how to have a good time, so it will be fun when we are able to get together and have a party. We are also planning on doing a Torah march, where we march from the United Methodist Church to the PJC [an old tradition they are hoping to recreate] but we are waiting until it’s safe to do that. Our rabbi’s have also come back on Shabbat to give sermons and talk about their experiences.”

One project will still be taking place despite the pandemic is their oral history project. Young families in the PJC community will be interviewing older families in the congregation to create an oral history of their memories, traditions and to establish a relationship with one another within the synagogue.

“Our hope that in sharing some of their memories of the Synagogue, they might inspire some of the young families to create new ones here too,” Mendelson said.
Residents who are interested in joining the PJC can call 516-944-7202 or email info@portjewishcenter.org. Go to Facebook @PortJewishCenter to learn more. Shabbat services are open to all via Zoom.

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