Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
font size: +
 

A community grows in Fair Lawn

Orthodox shuls expand as new and younger families move in

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 
image
From left, David Glassberg, Ari Pruzansky, Rabbi Eli Belizon, and Rabbi Yaakov Ehrenkranz.

When Rabbi Benjamin Yudin moved to Fair Lawn to lead Congregation Shomrei Torah in 1969, only 17 families belonged to the borough’s sole Orthodox synagogue.

Today, Fair Lawn has seven synagogues that follow Orthodox practice, including two Lubavitch-Chabad and a Sephardic.

Shomrei Torah has close to 300 member units. Its leadership has made a concerted effort over the past five years to recruit young families after noting that although the sanctuary was filled on Shabbat, there weren’t many baby strollers parked outside.

They asked Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future to partner in a program to offer young married YU graduates two years of rent-free living in a nearby apartment complex in return for spreading the word about Fair Lawn to their friends.

Now the shul’s entryway boasts a couple dozen carriages on Saturday mornings, and the auxiliary service originally created to ease the overflow in the main sanctuary has become the Young Couples Minyan.

Yudin points out that the leafy suburb has much to offer Jewish families: It is easily accessible to New York City and only minutes from the Orthodox hubs of Teaneck and Passaic. The borough has its own mikveh and kosher eateries. In neighboring Paramus, Yeshivat Noam and Yavneh Academy each have student populations of about 800 from preschool to eighth grade.

“For young families, the best indication that special things are happening is that in the last 10 years there has been incredible growth in the local Jewish day schools,” Yudin said. This is a major factor in wooing new members, he added.

“Our success rate has been phenomenal,” said former Shomrei Torah president Willie Hochman, one of the architects of the Community Growth Initiative. “Many of these young men and women who moved in three or four years ago have anchored themselves to the community by buying houses.”

An assistant rabbi, Andrew Markowitz, was brought aboard in August 2010 to cater to the younger members’ needs.

“It’s a team effort with my wife, Sara,” Markowitz said. “We create a positive energy so people who come to visit Fair Lawn will have a nice warm experience in the Young Couples minyan and afterward.”

The next step was opening a beit midrash (adult Torah study program) at Shomrei Torah, open four weeknights for the entire community. The program was suggested, initiated, and funded by individual members.

Hochman says the program has been attractive to the young demographic the shul has been seeking. “We did research about [Orthodox] couples and found they’re looking for communities with established growth through Torah. When they come home from work and after the kids are in bed, they want to learn [Torah] at night.”

Teaneck native Rabbi Eli Belizon, 30, was enlisted to head the beit midrash, begun last September. He and the beit midrash committee recruited three men — Rabbi Yaacov Ehrenkrantz, David Glassberg, and Ari Pruzansky — to staff the program. The three, all of whom are married, moved to Fair Lawn for their beit midrash fellowships. Their positions are part-time; each has a full-time job elsewhere.

“All these families, wives included, are part of the fabric of the community and not just in the beit midrash four nights a week,” Hochman said. “We now offered a fellowship to a fourth person, Michael Hoenig from Teaneck, who will start after the summer. Six months into the program we already have that need [to expand].”

Hochman added that the popularity of the program “has energized us” but does not indicate a major shift in the Orthodox character of Fair Lawn. “The color of the community is not going to change,” he said. “We’re a very heterogeneous community.”

Belizon and his wife, Rebecca, bought a house and moved in with their three children. “I felt it was really incredible that people who are working all day have a desire to add another element of learning at night, and that this is the type of growth [the synagogue’s leaders] want and the type of people they want to attract,” he said. “I saw unbelievable potential.”

The beit midrash offers customized learning in the evening, and Belizon presents a community-wide class every Tuesday evening. In addition, Rebecca Belizon gives a women’s class and lunch-and-learn sessions.

“We also have special programs before each holiday in our house that we invite the whole community to join,” he said. “And my wife recently ran a program of learning and fun for four- to eight-year-old girls in our house, so the [initiative] should involve the whole family and not just those who come to learn at night.”

Men and women drop in to study in the beit midrash from across Fair Lawn and range in age from teens to people in their 70s, Belizon said. Members of other Orthodox synagogues in Fair Lawn, including Rabbi Jeremy Donath of Congregation Darchei Noam, are regular participants.

“For us as a young couple, Fair Lawn is great,” Donath said. Donath, who is 27 and from Minneapolis, was hired by the six-year-old shul in 2011 after internships at synagogues in Teaneck and Englewood. He recommends the borough for its warm, homey environment.

“Fair Lawn has a little bit of a low-key, out-of-town feel where people are respectful of religious differences. There is something quaint about it. People choose this [over a larger community] if they want a sense that they matter, that they have a voice. They’re looking for something with a slightly different flavor.”

His 60-family synagogue is also actively trying to attract young families. Donath reports that one couple who visited on a recent Shabbat is planning a second “pilot trip.” An engaged couple also visited and expressed their intention to move to Fair Lawn. “Whether they ultimately come to our shul or to a different shul, it’s clear that people are seeing Fair Lawn as an option,” he said.

Markowitz has a similar perspective. “We are multigenerational and everyone has mutual respect for one another; Rabbi Yudin is proud of that. The community is small enough that everyone knows each other and people don’t feel they’re getting lost.”

Rabbi Uri Goldstein moved to Fair Lawn in September 2006 to head Congregation Ahavat Achim, a 90-family modern Orthodox synagogue founded in 1977 by nine families in the part of town close to Saddle River County Park and the border with Glen Rock. This is also where the Young Israel of Fair Lawn was founded about 12 years ago. There are no apartment complexes in this neighborhood, but Ahavat Achim and Young Israel each endeavor to appeal to house-hunting, growing families.

“We have seen an upswing in interest in Ahavat Achim from people ready to buy a home and put down roots,” Goldstein said.

“We are hosting families for Shabbat, families joined us from outside the area for our Purim activities, and we hope to put together a Shabbaton in the spring for prospective families. The people in our shul are very tight with each other in a wonderful way. It’s incredibly diverse and accepting. If you go to the park on Shabbat afternoon, you see a real spectrum of Orthodoxy, and everybody is friendly with each other, without questioning who’s wearing what. The family feel extends to the children too, no matter which school they go to.”

Dr. Larry Kraut, a Young Israel officer, says Torah learning opportunities are important to the shul’s 30 member families. Many of them participate in the beit midrash at Shomrei Torah and also attend weekly Torah Conferencing Network telecasts shown at the Young Israel.

“We pride ourselves in being associated with TCN, an international group that gives live shiurim [classes] in synagogues by world-renowned rabbis,” he said. “We’ve had Shabbatons inviting young couples to explore what we have on this side of town. We’re trying to spread the Yiddishkeit all around Fair Lawn.”

Yudin, too, reports that he is pleased to see how Orthodox Fair Lawn as a whole is experiencing a modest influx of young families. “I don’t pay much attention to numbers, but it is exciting that there has been this growth and I hope the rest of the community is the beneficiary,” he says.

Non-Orthodox streams in Fair Lawn have not been experiencing similar growth. The past few years have seen the Reform Temple Avoda merge with River Edge’s Temple Shalom and move there, and three Conservative congregations become two with the merger of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center and Congregation B’nai Israel. This combined synagogue has about 500 members, while Temple Beth Sholom serves some 250 households in Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Paramus, and Ridgewood.

Rabbi Ronald Roth, spiritual leader of Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation B’nai Israel since 2007, says enrollment in the congregation’s religious school has remained stable or grown slightly in that time. But he points out that the borough has seen a gain in children under five years old, in contrast to most other Bergen County municipalities, and some of that growth could be attributed to unaffiliated Jewish families.

His synagogue is situated across from Darchei Noam, and Roth has become friendly with Donath — but the Orthodox and Conservative rabbis do not have a forum for discussion with one another. “One of the issues in Bergen County is that there are two rabbinical groups, and we don’t have regular communication between the different movements,” Roth said.

Yudin acknowledges this, but asserts that the (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of Bergen County is “always open to those areas that we can work jointly for the benefit of the Jewish community.”

“It is not enough to recite ‘chaverim kol Yisrael,’ ‘all Israel are to be friends,’ once a month when we have the blessing for the new month,” he said. “One has to believe it and live it. We have tried over the years in every which way to commit ourselves to that principle, because there is so much more that unites us as Jews, thank God, than divides us.”

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

Pruzansky vs. Matanky

Rabbi’s Nazi analogy draws fire

The president of the Rabbinical Council of American, Rabbi Leonard Matanky, has weighed in on the ongoing dispute between Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck and Gary Rosenblatt of Teaneck, editor and publisher of New York’s Jewish Week.

“I am pained that I have to distance myself from a colleague, but the kind of language that Rabbi Pruzansky used is unacceptable and crosses the line of decency and discourse,” Rabbi Matanky is quoted in the Jewish Week as having written. (Rabbi Matanky lives in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood — which is more or less the Teaneck of the Midwest — where he is rabbi of Congregations K.I.N.S. and dean of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy.)

 

Reality check

Author to discuss intergenerational ‘experiment’

Katie Hafner began her professional career writing for a small newspaper in Lake Tahoe.

That didn’t last for long, though. “I worked my way up,” said Ms. Hafner, who now writes on health care for the New York Times.

A seasoned journalist, Ms. Hafner was exceptionally well prepared to chronicle an experience in her own life that she calls both an “experiment in intergenerational living” and a “disaster.” Inviting her 77-year-old mother to live with her and her teenage daughter, Zoe, in San Francisco, Ms. Hafner learned that fairy-tale imaginings are no match for emotional truths.

(In her book, Ms. Hafner calls her mother Helen. That is not her real name; her mother requested anonymity, and Ms. Hafner honored the request.)

 

Self-defense or unnecessary danger?

Armed self-defense is a value strongly supported in Jewish law, according to a statement issued last week by a local Jewish gun club, which is urging two of the largest Orthodox organizations in the country to reconsider their positions on gun control.

On July 16, the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization representing Orthodox rabbis in the United States, issued a statement recognizing the rights of private citizens to own weapons and engage in violence for self-defense, but also calling for the restriction of “easy and unregulated access to weapons and ammunition,” and denounced “recreational activities that desensitize participants … or glorify war, killing, physical violence, and weapons….”

The RCA resolution came just over a year after the Orthodox Union issued a similar resolution citing its longtime commitment to “common sense gun safety legislation” and calling on U.S. senators to pass legislation to ensure “a safer and more secure American society.”

 

RECENTLYADDED

Transmitting knowledge

Frisch students learn communal wisdom from Rockleigh Home residents

Many Jewish schools send students to visit residential facilities for the elderly.

Usually there is a group activity, such as crafts or singing, and residents tell the students a bit about themselves. But there hasn’t been a specific platform that gives retired communal leaders the opportunity to share their knowledge with the younger generation.

A new program recently initiated between the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and the Frisch School in Paramus is mining the depths of those wellsprings of wisdom.

“Linking the Generations: Training the Next Generation of Jewish Communal Leaders” grew out of a meeting on September 30 between six student council representatives from Frisch and Jewish Home residents George Hantgan, founder of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Englewood JCC (now the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly); Lillian Marion, a long-time member of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, and Allen Nydick, former director of major gifts at the Jewish Federation.

 

NCSY is for her

A highly motivated Bergenfield teen is national OU youth group president

Tova Sklar of Bergenfield, 17, recently became the first national NCSY president from New Jersey in a decade.

But two years ago, she had not yet even gotten involved in the youth movement, a program of the Orthodox Union.

Now a senior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, Tova’s first experience with NCSY came from a 2012 relief mission in to New Orleans, led by New Jersey NCSY’s director, Rabbi Ethan Katz.

“I always knew about NCSY, but I didn’t think it was it was for me,” she said. “I learned about the relief mission at school, and I honestly didn’t even know it was sponsored by NCSY until I went on it.”

Once there, she had the opportunity to meet girls her age, public school students who were involved in such NCSY programs as Jewish Student Union clubs, Teen Torah Center at the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies, Latte and Learning in Hackensack’s Riverside Square, summer programs, and regional conventions.

 

‘Anything is possible’

Avi Golden doesn’t sit still.

When he is not educating the medical and lay community about aphasia, he can be found on a ski slope, or on horseback, or scuba diving (zip-lining, kayaking, sailing, rock-climbing, etc.).

The 40-year-old, who is practicing EMT and former critical care and flight paramedic with Long Island Jewish Hospital and New York Presbyterian Hospital EMS — and a paramedic with Magen David Adom in Israel as well — is founder, and cheerleader-in-chief, of NYC Outdoors Disability, a sports group for people with a variety of physical disabilities.

“I tell them anything is possible,” he said. That philosophy might help explain how — after suffering a stroke during a medical procedure some 7 l/2 years ago — he was able to graduate from wheelchair to cane to unassisted walking. And if his arm is not back to normal yet, it’s not for lack of trying.

 
 
S M T W T F S
1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30