A BRIEF HISTORY OF TEMPLE BETH TORAH
In the late 1950's in a neighborhood called Westbury Hills, a small group of Jewish families began to talk about having a "shul" that they could walk to. Although there were other Conservative synagogues in the area at the time, this group wanted one that was closer and more accessible to all who were interested in helping to make it work.
Such was the genesis of the Westbury Hills Jewish Center, established in 1960 and soon after re-named Temple Beth Torah.
The voice that became the leader of that visionary founding group, Joe Einbinder, became our Temple's first president. In short order, after engaging a Rabbi and a Cantor, the Congregation was in business. Cantor Kalman Fliegelman replaced the incumbent after the first year, and has remained with Temple Beth Torah ever since.
Soon after its founding, the Temple purchased a parcel of land on Cantiague Road. By 1963, a barn that had stood on the property was razed, and a more permanent and substantial Temple building was erected. An expansion program, which added a Social Hall and three classrooms, was completed in 1971. Our present structure, including a Library, office space, and an enlarged Social Hall, was completed in 1991. In 1994, our Temple installed and dedicated the beautiful stained glass windows which today grace our Sanctuary.
Our Temple progressed on the religious front, as well. In 1979, just as Rabbi Michael Katz came to Temple Beth Torah, we instituted Saturday morning Bat Mitzvahs as our first step toward total egalitarianism. (Previously, Bat Mitzvahs had been celebrated only on Friday evenings.) At the same time, women were also granted P'tihot (ark openings), and were welcomed onto the Bimah. Although we had had women officers before, our first woman president, Roberta Schleicher, took office in 1981. It was during her administration that women were granted Aliyot (being called up to the Torah), and began to participate as readers from the Torah.
In 1995, women began to be counted as part of the Minyan, and were permitted to lead services in all respects as a Shlihat Tzibbur (as the Cantor). Today, Temple Beth Torah women and girls enjoy all the same privileges and responsibilities as their male counterparts. Our active Ritual Committee is comprised of both men and women.
The original concept of our founders - a Conservative synagogue in which there is no hierarchy and all are treated as members of an extended family - is the vision that continues to direct Temple Beth Torah today. It is this philosophy, and the guidance and leadership of Rabbi Katz and Cantor Chesler, which have enabled us to instill a unique feeling for each other and for Judaism in everything we set out to do.