When Douglas Krantz interviewed to become the rabbi at Congregation B’nai Yisrael in Armonk in 1979, he was 31 and in graduate school in New York City.
Sensing an undeniable connection to the congregation though, he ended up dropping out of school to become the CBY’s first full-time senior rabbi. Besides meeting his wife, he said leading CBY was the “best fortune of his life.”
Krantz ended up being the rabbi for 34 years. He loved how members were willing to question things and wanted to understand why the temple was doing things a certain way.
“Our major goal where we agreed instantly was that the role of the congregation was to nurture and raise the next generation of Jews,” Krantz said.
And CBY has accomplished that and much more as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The reform temple, which was founded by only a small handful of families in 1969, has thrived in Armonk for five decades, giving Jewish people in the community a true connection to their culture and religion.
Two founding members, John and Barbara Stern, still go to CBY and are pleased to see its growth.
Forming the Temple
The Sterns moved to Armonk in 1969. At the time, there was a Jewish community locally, but those that attended synagogue would go to one in Chappaqua for services. There was an idea of creating a school in town for Jewish children and possibly even starting a synagogue. Eventually, four to eight families started the small reform congregation.
The original name was the Association for Armonk Jewish Families.
As more families joined, there was a divide whether to simply be a school for youngsters or morph into a full-service congregation with most families opting for the latter, John Stern recalled.
The families would have services inside different homes and would also use different local churches, including a Lutheran Church in the late 1970s where CBY is now situated along Banksville Road after that Lutheran Church closed.
John Stern said his and other founding members’ goal was to see CBY become a strong pillar in the reform Jewish community.
“It was always the intention to grow along with Armonk,” John Stern said. “Community is an integral part of Jewish life. There’s a great drive to be together and be part of a community.”
Barbara Stern said it is thrilling to see the congregation evolve with younger leaders taking the reins. She stressed this growth is what she and her husband dreamt of.
Rabbi Strom Paves the Future for CBY
In 2015, the congregation welcomed Rabbi Joshua Strom as head rabbi. Strom lives in neighboring Chappaqua with his three young boys and wife Tali Ruderman Strom who works for UJA Federation. The family is actively involved in Northern Westchester Jewish life.
Strom said he really enjoys the CBY congregants and the rich history that exists at the synagogue. He wants the congregation to be the center of Jewish life for people through worship, education and putting those Jewish values into practice by taking social justice action within the community and world.
“There are so many ways to tap into Jewish life,” Strom said.
One way Strom represented Jewish values is when he appeared on the nationally televised game show earlier this year, Beat Shazam, which sees if contestants can name a song in only a couple of notes and is hosted by Jamie Foxx. The themed episode he was on was called “Keep the Faith” that featured other contestants from religious backgrounds.
Strom and his game show partner, Andrew, who is also a rabbi, won, but Strom said he thought it was more important to give people a clearer idea of what a Jewish leader can actually look like.
“Andrew and I don’t look like what a whole lot of people in America might think or assume a rabbi looks like,” he said. “I got a lot of comments from people in my congregation–not only was this super fun and wonderful–but especially with everything going on in our country and world today, people were saying ‘you being on television, this is actually good for the Jews. This is a good representation.”
Aaron Kwittken, who has been a congregation member for 11 years and started his tenure as temple president on July 1, said he thinks it’s important that Armonk and the rest of Northern Westchester has institutions where people feel enthusiastic and secure practicing Jewish values.
Come Be You at CBY: A Welcoming Synagogue
CBY has become a staple in the community, Kwittken said, because the synagogue is a “very welcoming, very inclusive environment.”
People who are interfaith or from the LGBTQ community are welcomed, Kwittken noted. Congregants are encouraged to “come be you” which initials are CBY, the synagogue’s acronym. Kwittken also lauded the current Rabbi, Joshua Strom, for his leadership.
“We’ve always had a modern mindset and a very forward looking, progressive attitude, it’s really helped us attract and maintain members for half-a-century now,” Kwittken said.
Kwittken said it’s rare for founding members, like the Sterns, to still be so deeply involved with the synagogue and it’s noteworthy that the temple has only needed three full-time senior rabbis in five decades.
“Not only does it make us rare, but it makes a treasure of northern Westchester,” he said.
It’s great to interact with a cross-generational group of people that Kwittken said he might not have met if not for the temple.
Golden Anniversary Celebrations In the Works
To mark the 50th year, the temple will be celebrating the congregation’s founding members, including Rabbi Krantz, and will have notable speakers, including from The Union for Reform Judaism. Various other activities and programs are in the works, Kwittken said. A large gala was also held in April, honoring four families that represent the past and the future of the synagogue.
The temple’s executive director, Ava Saperstein, said she believes the synagogue has “turned a corner” and is on the “upswing.” In the last year, about 30 families have joined CBY, resulting in 340 families overall and many have children enrolled in the religious school.
There is also young clergy, like Rabbi Strom, with the temple that are still able to connect with older members, but can also relate to younger ones, Saperstein said.
Cantor Sugarman Joins the Clergy Team
Part of the youthful clergy members includes the temple’s new cantor, Lilah Sugarman, who started July 1. Before interviewing with CBY, Sugarman, who grew up in Los Angeles, had never heard of Armonk, but now she’s happy to call it home.
When she interviewed with CBY, she just knew, just like Rabbi Krantz had known decades earlier, it was the right fit for her.
“CBY has a really strong history of connecting the community to Judaism in very different ways,” she said. “I’m excited to continue to do that.”
Lifelong Learning at CBY
At CBY, the congregation stresses that Judaism is a lifelong journey that requires ongoing education and spiritual discovery.
“We discover the building blocks of Jewish life, explore our sense of selves in the context of our Jewish heritage, and apply the lessons and ethics of our Jewish people throughout our journeys,” CBY’s website states.
With that in mind, CBY offers learning opportunities starting in 3rd grade in preparation for a child’s bar/bah mitzvah. But the chance to better understand Judaism doesn’t stop there, with post confirmation courses for teens that’s focused on leadership and courses for adults to continue their Jewish journey.
The adult education program is accessible with different days and times for those members that want to pursue further learning. Rabbi Strom holds Torah study several times a month, including every Saturday morning from September to June.
He’ll even travel to New York City one Wednesday a month for a class called Times Square Torah for those congregation members that work in the city.