The Garden Jewish Center, in existence for more than 50 years, is no more, and members of the congregation are looking into a merger with the Bay Terrace Jewish Center.
The Garden synagogue, located at 24-20 Parsons Blvd. in Flushing, has seen a decrease in membership over the last few years due to changing demographics, deaths and members moving outside the area.
In June, its rabbi, Martin Cooper, retired after serving the Jewish center for 16 years. Cooper stayed on a couple more weeks, but now the facility is closed for services.
“We are in deep mourning and pain to see such a stalwart facility close. We never thought it would happen,” said Alan Berger, vice president of the Bay Terrace Jewish Center board of trustees, who is on the committee looking into the merger.
Berger is in a unique position to talk about the two Jewish centers, since he has belonged to both over his lifetime. “My mother was an original Garden member and I was bar mitzvahed there,” Berger said. “I was in the first Sunday school there in 1954.”
Despite being a member of Bay Terrace for 23 years, Berger still runs the Garden Jewish Center’s basketball league on Sunday mornings, which he’s done for the last 20 years.
“That’s about the only thing left at the Garden center,” he said. “In the past, it was a real community center with the VFW and co-op and condo groups meeting there.”
He joined Bay Terrace because he lives nearby and prefers to walk to services on the Sabbath.
The stone-faced Garden Jewish Center building is for sale and the parsonage has already been sold. Its 143 members are now attending Sabbath services and will participate in High Holy Day prayers at Bay Terrace.
Marilyn Bitterman is heading the negotiating team from the Garden center. She compares the prospective merger with a marriage. “We need a contract, a new constitution to make everyone equal,” Bitterman said. “It will require a name change and we hope to maintain our former president. It’s a marriage between two congregations.”
Part of the talks involves the acceptance of Garden plaques and religious items at Bay Terrace and changing the name of the sanctuary to reflect both congregations. Berger doesn’t think there will be a problem.
“We are exuberant and welcoming and flattered that we were picked,” he said. “We hope it works out.”
Space is not an issue as Bay Terrace has also seen a decline in membership — from a high of 500 to about 250.
Bitterman, who is district manager of Community Board 7, noted that the Garden congregation is also still considering the Bayside Jewish Center and Temple Gates of Prayer in Flushing as possible relocations.
Both the Garden and the Bay Terrace Jewish centers are traditional synagogues, which give women a limited role in services.
Bitterman and Berger believe negotiations will be completed after the Jewish holidays in October. Then it will have to be approved by the state attorney general and state Supreme Court, hopefully by the end of the year, Bitterman said.