Starting in the early 1950's as the North Central area of the Town of Oyster Bay started to grow, many young Jewish families from the boroughs of New York city saw an opportunity to realize the great American Dream of owning a new home in the suburbs. Faced with the realization that the Jewish Community structure they were used to was not available, they began to create the synagogues that fit their new life style. As their children grew and were being raised in a diverse culture, many parents felt the need not only to educate their children Jewishly but to grow Jewishly themselves. Individual Rabbis started to give Adult Education courses in their synagogues but with the burgeoning population at various levels of Jewish Education, it was difficult for one Rabbi to satisfy all, even in his own institution. Fortunately the Rabbis, who had common interests and knew each other as members of local Rabbinic groups realized that with the proximately of this area to New York City, lecturers would be readily available for a cost. Also, if each of the Rabbis taught at a central location, more diverse needs could be met. Thus our Institute was born.
From an article in the Bulletin of Midway Jewish Center of September 1963 aptly titled Say Not: “When I Have Leisure I Will Study” , we quote “... For the first time, the Jewish communities of Bethpage, Jericho, Plainview, and Syosset have joined together in a program of Education and enlightenment. The Institute of Adult Jewish Studies will offer a variety of formal courses and an outstanding series of lecturers of provocative and topical subjects. It will give all of us the opportunity to meet, listen to and question some of the most prominent men in American Jewry.”
Right from the beginning there was a fall term starting after the High Holidays offering courses in Jewish History, the Prayer Book, Evolution of Jewish Law, Jewish Literature, Jewish Music, the Bible, Beginner’s Hebrew, Intermediate Hebrew, Conversation Hebrew and Yiddish. There was also a Winter Session starting mid January and running for 6 weeks on a single topic. It is interesting to note that classes didn’t start until 8:30pm and ran for a full hour before being followed by the lecture. The winter Lecture series started at 8:30pm and ran for 90 minutes. A recap in the Midway Bulletin noted that “Our recent class and lecture series held in cooperation with four other temples and six organizations in our area was most gratifyingly successful. Turnouts of 300 to 400 people every Monday night at Plainview Jewish Center ... The large audience and active interest gave sparkle to speakers, sponsors and participants.”
It seems our formula was a good one from the beginning, as gradually more Synagogues joined the group. Today, our most northern Synagogue is in Oyster Bay, but at one time Glen Cove Jewish Center was also a Member. We go as far west as Beth Torah of Westbury. We have always had members from various branches of Judaism. We are open to suggestions for classes and lectures and are welcoming to all who are interested in participating on our steering committee.