How an Asian convert to Judaism became unlikely leader of unusual synagogue
Japanese Rabbi Theodore Tsuruoka brings his unique background to the Jewish faith.
What do a Japanese rabbi, a Korean church and a Chinese restaurant have in common?
For Temple Isaiah of Great Neck, on Long Island, N.Y., the answer’s no punch line. The three components have all played a crucial role in the congregation’s colorful 46-year history.
For 37 years, this Reform congregation held the majority of its services inside the Community Church of Great Neck, which serves as the spiritual center for much of the area’s Korean community. Today, Temple Isaiah stands in a space formerly occupied by Uncle Chau’s Chinese Restaurant (the restaurant was demolished, and the synagogue was built from the ground up).
As for the Japanese rabbi, that would be Theodore Tsuruoka, 67, who has led the congregation since 2000. Reflecting a message of inclusion that has touched a nerve in the community, Tsuruoka has been crucial in helping Temple Isaiah survive and expand while other Reform synagogues in the area struggle to stay afloat.