NEW YORK, Sept. 28 (JTA) — When the Central Synagogue reopens the doors of its historic building two years from now, its congregation can expect Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend the rededication ceremony. Together with his wife, Sara, Netanyahu presented the Reform synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, with a 14-karat gold, limited edition mezuzah by Israel artist Moshe Castel. “We’d like to be here at the time you affix it,” the Israeli premier said. “If not, we will come and worship” at another time. Netanyahu came to the synagogue Sunday to pay his respects and to inspect the damage the 120-year-old building sustained in an August fire, which destroyed most of the roof. The interior of the Spanish Moorish Revival building also suffered extensive water damage. During a visit to a Conservative synagogue in New York last spring, Netanyahu had vowed to attend a Reform service here some time this year. But representatives from the Reform movement hesitated to draw a connection between that promise and Sunday’s visit to Central Synagogue. Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, the executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, said, “This was an appropriate gesture for the New Year, wishing this congregation in pain a better year.” Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said Netanyahu’s appearance “was not expected, but appreciated” and offered an open invitation for Netanyahu to attend Shabbat or holiday worship at any Reform congregation. There are currently about 850 such congregations in the United States and 30 in Israel. Netanyahu, who visited Central Synagogue several times during his tenure as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988, called it “one of the greatest in the world.” “Here and in Israel, the synagogue is the fabric, the living tissue and life force of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu told a gathering of about 50 synagogue members, many of whom were visibly sweating from heat under white hard hats, as they looked down into the ravaged sanctuary, currently under construction. Rubinstein presented Netanyahu with one of the square, handmade nails that had secured the roof, which is now open to a blue sky above massive scaffolding. The nail is symbolic of the congregation, which he has led for eight years, and their will “to rise up and rebuild,” explained Rubinstein, who led the group in the Shehecheyanu prayer.
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