06/02/13 1:20pm
06/02/2013 1:20 PM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Rabbi Gadi Capela inside Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport.

When rain threatened to wash out Greenport’s Arbor Day celebration on Thursday, Rabbi Gadi Capela opened the doors of Congregation Tifereth Israel synagogue on Fourth Street to shelter the ceremony. 

Born and raised in Israel and educated in New York City, Rabbi Capela said the community has been equally welcoming to him since moving to Greenport in March to begin his new job as the synagogue’s rabbi. He has already made fast friends with community members and local religious leaders.

“We don’t just work together, we enjoy lunches and we’ve formed personal relationships with each other,” he said. “Part of what attracted me here is how beautifully everything is kept. I thought if they keep care of the trees like this they must take good care of people, too.”

Rabbi Capela’s road to a life in religion was not a typical one.

Raised in a Jewish Orthodox family in Israel, he came to the United States at age 22 after spending four years in the Israeli Army, three of which were mandated. He signed on for an additional year to complete his officer training, he said.

Continued education initially drew Rabbi Capela to the United States. He studied at Yeshiva University in New York City and went on to become a successful banker at a mid-sized Manhattan firm, but he never lost sight of his faith.

He decided to pursue his master’s degree at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and began teaching Hebrew scripture, in particular the Book of Genesis, at Our Lady of the Island Catholic shrine in Manorville.

It was there where he met Ellen Harbes, a parishioner St. Agnes R.C. Church in Greenport. As his graduation from the seminary drew closer, Ms. Harbes encouraged Rabbi Capela to seek employment at Greenport’s Congregation Tifereth Israel. “Even before I started I had a recommendation from the Catholic church,” he said.

Still, Rabbi Capela said he struggled with leaving the corporate world.

“I loved my job; I wasn’t sure that I actually wanted to do congregational work,” he said. “A turning point came when I was at the office and thinking about studying, but when I was studying I didn’t think about the office. I was hesitant, but when I found Greenport it was a match.”

In March, Rabbi Capela replaced Rabbi Myron Fenster, who had come out of retirement to serve the synagogue as an interim rabbi.

“It took them five years to find a rabbi and there was a match on both ends,” Rabbi Capela said. “I didn’t want to be in a big synagogue and be very official, I wanted a one-on-one relationship with people and that’s what I’m getting here.”

Congregation Tifereth Israel was built in 1903 by a group of enterprising Jewish vendors seeking new markets. They arrived in Greenport by way of the railroad and purchased the lot on Fourth Street for $1,430. The building has been expanded several times, however the primary 20-by-30-foot sanctuary remains mostly unchanged from the founders’ original design. In 2006 the sanctuary was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The synagogue has traditionally welcomed those of every faith for social events and religious education classes. Rabbi Capela said he looks forward to honoring that history.

“Interfaith to me is one of the cornerstones of being a rabbi,” he said. “It is not just for the Jewish community, it’s really about being embracing and being embraced by the general community. In scripture, God says ‘My house is a house of prayer for everybody,’ and that’s what I want to create.”

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04/06/13 8:00am
04/06/2013 8:00 AM
Greenport Temple

JULIE LANE PHOTO | The Congregation Tifereth Israel building in Greenport.

Did you know that the Beatles were not Catholic? It was a shock to learn that fact, which, as I recall, a sibling shared with 10-year-old yours truly on the way home from a trip to the barber shop one Saturday morning. Given that the old man served in the Army Air Corps in World War II and never gave up his GI style, our hair was about as long as the grass on a putting green and Earnie, the one-legged Austrian (I’m not making that up) was done with us in no time flat. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Next!

TIM KELLY

TIM KELLY

I secretly longed for long hair just like the Fab Four, who I had assumed were Catholic. Since we were Catholic, wasn’t everybody?

They’re not? Really? Wow! Well, obviously they’re not going to heaven. It’s as simple as that.

A few years later my hairstyle, if you could call it that, remained crew cut, which was just as well given that my Boy Scout cap just fit and a new one appeared as unlikely as my becoming an Eagle Scout. Our troop met in the Methodist church hall and you should have seen the look on Ma’s face when I passed along the good reverend’s invite to attend an ecumenical service.

Oh, no, you can’t go, said she. Why not? I asked, not at all unhappy at avoiding another hour in uncomfortable clothes sitting in a butt-numbing wooden pew. Why? Because they’re not Catholic. To be fair, Ma loosened up considerably over the years and without losing her faith became quite critical of the many blatant examples of hierarchical hypocrisy.

But if the reverend invited the Beatles? They could go.

I offer this slice of personal history to give an idea of my state of mind when attending a recent Passover Seder — my first — at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport. Don’t get me wrong, I was pleased and honored to take part in the Seder, the service commemorating the Jewish people’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. But I’m always nervous at religious observances, especially one totally foreign to me.

I think I knew one Jewish kid growing up. That number wouldn’t have been so ridiculously low had my folks never left Yonkers, but that’s how it was out in the sticks.

My apprehension was fed by the knowledge that a Seder is an interactive affair, parts of which date back thousands of years, so the prime directive coming from either the emotional or rational part of the brain was simple: Don’t screw up, don’t screw up.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Buddy, you’re not 10 anymore. Shouldn’t you be beyond that? Well, I’m not, OK? So sue me, whydoncha.

Fortunately, everyone at the Seder table received a copy of the Haggadah, the book read on the first night of Passover. (Haggadah means “telling.”) It covered everything. Ah, this is a piece of cake. During Mass we all had missals, the books with all the text and instructions, so with a Seder guidebook I had nothing to fear.

I perused the Haggadah before Rabbi Gadi Capela, a very energetic young man in his first year with the congregation, got things going. But just a few pages in, right on top of the page, it said, “Our Seder now has ended” and several lines below that, “La-shana haba’ah birushalayim,” meaning, Next year in Jerusalem!

Uh, OK, where’s the rest of the text? Good lord, I’m in trouble. It wasn’t until just before the start that it hit me. Dummy, like Hebrew, the book is read from right to left, not the other way around. Whew!

With the unjustifiable panic in remission, I could finally enjoy the not-unfamiliar trip through what some call a crash course in Jewish history. Indeed, the rabbi noted that to forget or forgo the story of slavery under Pharaoh or the freedom through Exodus is to lose faith and an identity maintained, often at great cost, since antiquity.

So I happily did the reading when my turn came around, even though my silent practicing went for naught when the Rabbi skipped some pages. I shared in the matzoh, tried the horseradish, the “bitter herb” recalling the bitterness of slavery and drank the four cups of wine representing the four promises of redemption. OK, it wasn’t really four cups, because at that point I might have decided I could sing in Hebrew as well as the rabbi. It was more like four small portions.

As a recovering Catholic who’s about as religious as the Kremlin, it was humbling to witness a community of faithful folk who embrace tradition in an active, endless effort to fend off the dark powers of mindless modernism. And who were kind enough to let a big Irisher share the special evening.

Did I mention the real, not ceremonial, food available in abundance at the Haggadah’s end? Incred-i-ble.

Could not have been a better evening, even if the Beatles had showed.

Tim Kelly is the editor of The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected]   or 631-298-3200, ext. 238.

07/13/12 1:00pm
07/13/2012 1:00 PM

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO |  Sophie Pickerell (left) and Landon Doroski entertained with their ballroom dancing Thursday at the 17th annual Catch-A-Star Luncheon. Joanne Sherman (right) was this year’s speaker.

When the Daughters of Israel saw that Greenport’s Landon Doroski would be instructing free ballroom dancing at Mitchell Park every Monday night in July, the sisterhood group of Congregation Tifereth Israel saw a golden opportunity for entertainment at its 17th annual Catch-A-Star Luncheon.

Mr. Doroski, 19, received the group’s literary scholarship last year, but was unable to attend the luncheon because he was abroad in Korea. He made up for his absence by performing several ballroom dances at Thursday’s event at Soundview Restaurant with 15 year-old Sophie Pickerell of Southold.

“I know Landon from the ROTC program,” Ms. Pickerell said. “He taught us some dances for our military ball in March at Vineyard Caterers, so I’m helping him do an exhibition of his ballroom dancing to get people to go to his free classes at Mitchell Park.”

People packed the restaurant, including members of the Congregation Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Greenport, who sat with raffle tickets as they listened to the event’s presenters and enjoyed a lunch of either chicken and snow peas or vegetarian pasta.

Presenters included Greenport High School senior Zoe Vayer, this year’s literary scholarship winner, who read an essay about her spiritual journey, beginning as a non-believer and ending with a religious epiphany that took place on top of Mount Sinai.

“We’ve celebrated artists and writers through the years,” host Paula Shengold said of the event. “We’ve had Bonnie Grice, Ed German, Larry Levine, Bob Berks, Peg Murray, just about all the artists and writers of the North Fork, talk at our annual luncheon. They’ve really been generous with their time.”

This year’s speaker was humor columnist for the Shelter Island Reporter, Joanne Sherman, who shared three of her pieces with the crowd, as well as a nightmare she had in nights leading up to the event about the dining room being filled with baby goats.

Watch here as Ms. Sherman shares one of her laugh-out-loud columns with the crowd about her grand-children’s reaction to her trip to Alaska last year.