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Chronicling Long Island’s synagogues from Atlantic Beach to Montauk

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A photographer since he was a teenager, Brad Kolodny began taking photos of synagogues around the world in the 1980s, so when his family’s temple, the Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, renovated its sanctuary in 2015, it was a natural progression to think about other Long Island Jewish places of worship.

“I started thinking about the larger context that there are so many memories and that there are lasting changes elsewhere on Long Island, and it blossomed from there,” said Kolodny, 49, a New York Times advertising sales representative.

He has photographed nearly 600 synagogues in 13 countries. He began snapping shots of Jewish temples on Long Island in 2015. Originally the pictures were shown on an Instagram account — “Synagogues of Long Island.” Then those pics became the basis of his 128-page coffee table book “Seeking Sanctuary, 125 Years of Synagogues on Long Island,” published by Merrick-based Segulah Press.

Kolodny’s book includes more than 350 photos and chronicles the history of every synagogue in Nassau and Suffolk counties past and present from Atlantic Beach to Greenport on the East End of the Island. Based on his reporting there are 219 active synagogues in those counties, 166 in Nassau and 53 in Suffolk. There are 67 still-standing former synagogue buildings, 44 in Nassau and 23 in Suffolk.

Shooting so many synagogues could be a challenge, especially finding the uniqueness of each. “It wasn’t always easy,” Kolodny said, “sometimes an ornamental element would catch my eye or the seating configuration or the Ark. I went out at sunrise and sunset, winter nights and different times.”

Using mostly a Canon T5i with a 55 to 125mm lens, Kolodny collected photos of such synagogues as Agudas Achim in Setauket that he said was the first synagogue built on Long Island, in 1896, to Temple Israel of Lawrence, the oldest Jewish Reform congregation on the Island. The congregation originated in Far Rockaway and moved to the Lawrence building in 1930.

“I have a sensibility of what makes a good photo,” said Kolodny, who worked with a fisheye lens to capture the ceiling beams of the sanctuary in Congregation Ohav Sholom in Merrick that create a Jewish Star. He has also used the panoramic mode on an iPhone 8. Depending on the situation, he utilizes either the landscape or portrait modes on the Canon and various angles.

Rabbi Dave Siegel who heads Segulah Press said he was attracted to Kolodny’s book because of his passion to tell stories about genuine places “that are dear to us” as they created memories of “family celebrations and sacred moments.”

Siegel believes that “Seeking Sanctuary, 125 Years of Synagogues on Long Island" is essential reading for anyone that wants to truly understand the history of Long Island.” He added, “As we continue to work towards creating a strong future for our communities, it is essential that we know and understand our past. Brad has helped make this possible.”

Dorri Berkowitz is Segulah Press’s managing editor who shepherded the book from the initial manuscript to completion. “Brad’s love for ‘Seeking Sanctuary’ was contagious,” she said. “It has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable projects of my career.”

Beyond the typical elegance of a coffee table book with beautiful color photographs, Kolodny wants readers to gain a greater awareness of what came before and what exists now. “Significantly, I hope there is a much greater appreciation for the Jewish history of Long Island,” he said.