Synagogues / Temple Sinai
Founded in 1952 in Amherst, NY, Temple Sinai was the first suburban and the first Reconstructionist synagogue in Greater Buffalo. In 2012 it merged with Temple Beth Am to form the world’s first jointly constituted Reconstructionist-Reform congregation named Congregation Shir Shalom.
At a meeting organized by Louis Bunis on August 24, 1952, Temple Sinai came into being. Determining the need for a “new liberal conservative temple,” the assembled group agreed that this synagogue would provide a space for “relevant, dynamic, positive and creative Judaism.” The nascent congregation became the first congregation in the suburbs, and the first and Reconstructionist congregation in the Greater Buffalo area. Twenty-eight men and women from the families of Borins, Bunis, Estry, Feld, Frey, Goldman, Goldstein, Gross, Kaufman, Posner, Rekoon, Shapiro, Snitzer and Wunder signed the articles of incorporation. On October 24, 1952, the newly formed congregation held their first service within the home of the Lyndale Evangelical and Reformed Church. Rabbi Harold Weisburg, Cantor Harry Kaufman (formerly of Temple Beth El), and organist Ruth Axelrod served as service leaders. The building was formally dedicated on April 26, 1953 with guest speaker, (Rabbi) Dr. Ira Eisenstein, editor of The Reconstructionist. A year later, on April 1, 1954, Rabbi Nathan Gaynor, the congregation’s first rabbi was installed by Dr. Mordecai Kaplan, a founder of the Reconstructionist Movement.
Growing rapidly, the congregation made plans for its own purpose-built synagogue and selected a tract of land on Alberta Drive in Amherst. In 1955, the congregation held a groundbreaking ceremony and a year later hosted the first national conference of the Reconstructionist movement. The cornerstone laying for the new synagogue took place on Sunday, November 3, 1957 and the first service at the site was held on August 22, 1957. The building was designed by Milton Milstein, architect of the Jewish Community Center and the Rosa Coplon Jewish Old Folks Home. His design with a tan brick exterior, complemented the buildings of the suburb residential neighborhood, even as its plot consumed more than 10 housing lots on the corner of Alberta Drive and Delta Road. The square shaped building had a rising sanctuary space and a low single-story entrance. The wrap around office and classroom space encased an interior courtyard. As an example of mid-century modern ecclesiastic architecture, it is a key structure in a pending historic district application.
The early and mid 1950s had been a flurry of firsts for Temple Sinai and the 1960s proved equally energizing. In 1965, Temple Sinai celebrated its Bar Mitzvah year, with a first joint adult bar and bat mitzvah ceremony. Temple Sinai weathered the departure of Rabbi Gaynor, who left to become director of Hillel at University of Illinois. Rabbi Paul Levenson served as an interim rabbi with the congregation from 1966 to 1968. At the end of the 1960s, Rabbi Joseph D. Herzog, began a 25-year rabbinate with Temple Sinai emerging as a significant force in progressive Judaism locally and nationally until his retirement in the 1990s.
Following Rabbi Herzog’s retirement, a number of rabbis served the congregation. Rabbi Barry Schwartz joined in 1993, and during his tenure began the Jubilee Endowment Fund as well as editing a new Shabbat prayer book. Rabbi Benjamin (Jamie) Arnold, took over in 1999. The first Reconstructionist trained rabbi to serve at Temple Sinai, and originally from Western New York, he served the Temple for five years until relocating to Denver, Colorado in 2005. Rabbi Jerry Seidler served for the next three years, when he left for the position of the Jewish Staff Chaplain at Sinai and Northwest Hospitals in Baltimore, MD. At this time the synagogue, like many others in the region, had a contracting membership base, and it’s classrooms were underutilized. Appointed in 2008, Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein was the Temple’s third Reconstructionist trained rabbi. During his rabbinate, the congregation made the decision to merge. As the sole Reconstructionist synagogue in Buffalo, a merger with another stream of Judaism would create a unique partnership. After discussion talks beginning in 2010, the Reform suburban synagogue, Temple Beth Am merged with Temple Sinai. In the newly named Congregation Shir Shalom, they became the first joint Reconstructionist-Reform temple in the United States.
72 Lyndale Ave, Buffalo, NY
50 Alberta Dr, Buffalo, NY
3210 Niagara Falls Blvd, Buffalo, NY 14228
Architect: Milton Milstein
Temple Sinai, 14th Annual Convention of the Reconstructionist Federation of Congregation and Fellowships
L-R: David Busch, Cantor Alan Edwards, Ruth Goldman, Muriel House, Rabbi Gaynor, Edith Goldstein, Shale Freidman and Morris Sobel, 1960s.
L-R: Leonard Goodman, Harold Axelrod, Center: Judith Kaplan Eisenstein, Edith Goldstein, Martin Wolpin, and Leon Siegel.
Nate Finkelstein, standing on left (with a badge on his arm) was a troop leader during the 1960s
L-R, Cantor Sternberg, Louis Bunis, Rabbi Ira Eisenstein, Rabbi Nathan Gaynor and Harold Axelrod.
L-R: Lester Gross, Rabbi Nathan Gaynor, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, and Louis Bunis, 1954.
Our thanks to Congregation Shir Shalom for sharing materials from their digital archives.