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When a synagogue shuts its doors, what happens to its windows?

Local mergers reflect a national trend

 
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Bergen County’s synagogue mergers reflect a national trend, according to Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.

The trend has several causes, he said, including the economic downturn and declining synagogue affiliation among Reform and Conservative Jews.

According to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the number of families affiliated with the movement’s synagogues in the Northeast dropped by 30 percent in the past decade.

Another factor in Conservative mergers are long-term changes in the movement. When the Conservative movement began building its suburban synagogues in the 1950s, Sarna said, “they assumed that there were members who walked, so you tended to have Conservative synagogues every couple of miles. Nowadays, you don’t make that assumption.”

That would explain why Fair Lawn, which encompasses 5.2 square miles, had four Conservative synagogues before mergers reduced them to two, one egalitarian and one traditional.

“In terms of the Reform movement, I think that the economic downturn hit the Reform movement particularly hard, as did the Great Depression, because for some Reform Jews, paying synagogue dues was a discretionary expense,” he said.

Sarna said synagogue mergers have been a constant in American Jewish history. A wave of mergers took place when Jews began moving to suburbia. Chicago’s KAM Isaiah Israel synagogue, famed for its location across the street from President Barack Obama’s former home, is the result of merger of several Reform congregations. “As that area of Chicago changed and the Jews moved out, all of them merged into one congregation,” Sarna said.

He believes that larger cultural trends herald more bad news for synagogue affiliation and continuing interest in mergers.

“We’ve gone a significant number of decades of having a religious revival, where much of the talk was about people becoming more religious. I think there’s growing evidence that that era has ended and in fact we’re seeing — as we did in the 1920s — a movement in the other direction, away from churches and synagogues. We’ve seen these cycles throughout American history,” he said.

 

More on: When a synagogue shuts its doors, what happens to its windows?

 
 
 

Sons of Israel’s parting gifts

 

(And other questions about closure)

For an ailing synagogue, merging with a healthier congregation is seldom Plan A.

“It’s something that develops over a period of years, because the first choice is to make what you have work,” said Mel Glantz, who was a long-time member of Cong. Beth Israel of Northern Valley in Bergenfield. “There’s a sense of failure when you’ve got to merge.”

Nevertheless, his synagogue merged with another Conservative congregation, Beth Sholom in Teaneck, in 2008. It was one of eight synagogue mergers in North Jersey over the past five years.

 
 
 
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

Dentistry in Africa

Local father-daughter duo fix teeth in Jewish Ugandan village

Kayla Grunstein’s parents, Shira and Dr. Robert Grunstein, didn’t want her to “be a brat,” Kayla said.

They wanted her to learn something about the world and her place in it, about the importance of work and the satisfaction of a job well done, about gratitude and generosity and giving.

They also were not adverse to allowing the 14-year-old some excitement and adventure at the same time.

In fact, a lot of excitement and adventure. With the Abayudaya in Uganda.

This is how it happened.

Her father, Dr. Robert Grunstein, is a dentist. He lives in Teaneck but has spent his career working mainly with lower-income children in Passaic and Paterson. He had the brilliant idea (yes, this is journalism, but some things are so clear that they just must be said, so brilliant idea it is) of buying an old fire truck and turning it into a mobile dental office. “Kids love fire trucks, and they are ambivalent at best about going to the dentist,” he said. “If you mix the two, it becomes more palatable.

 

We’ve got the horse right here…

Local Orthodox family wins the Kentucky Derby. Really!

It took American Pharoah barely more than two minutes and two seconds to win the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

For Joanne Zayat of Teaneck, whose husband, Ahmed, owns American Pharoah (and yes, that is how it is spelled), those two minutes and barely more than two seconds stretched out and then blurred and bore little relation to regular time as it usually passes.

There she was — really, there they were, Ahmed and Joanne Zayat, their four children — all Orthodox Jews — and a small crowd of friends and relatives, in one of the owners’ boxes at Churchill Downs in Lexington, Kentucky, on a glorious flowering spring Shabbat, watching as their horse won America’s most iconic horse race.

How did they get there?

 

Born to lead

The head of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey tells his story — and federation’s

Learning to cull less-than-perfect goldfish as they hurtle by you on a slimy assembly line, using your bare hands, disposing of them in garbage bags, is not a skill most nice Jewish boys acquire.

Nor is standing in the middle of an ice-cold pond in a torn wetsuit and hand-selecting the most decorative available koi, at the orders of overseas hoteliers, again with your bare hands.

Jason Shames of Haworth did both those things, during a stay on an Israeli kibbutz. Those and similar skills, oddly enough, were part of a logical progression that took Mr. Shames from the Bronx to the helm of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, a job he accepted four years ago this week.

 

RECENTLYADDED

‘Indescribable’ connections

Zahal Shalom brings Israeli veterans to Ridgewood for touring, love

What happened when the alarm went off in the Pentagon was a reminder of one of the reasons local volunteers behind Zahal Shalom are so eager to open their homes, their schedules, and their wallets to 10 wounded Israeli veterans each year.

During their two-week stay, the Israelis get to see New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C.

In Washington, they visited the monuments, ate in the Senate dining room, and took a tour of the Pentagon, where — and this was not on the five-page itinerary — a fire drill caused alarms to clang loudly.

For Anat Nitsan, the alarm brought back memories from the Yom Kippur war, more than 40 years ago. Now an art curator, then she was a soldier at the air force base at Sharm el-Sheikh, at the southern tip of Sinai. She survived the initial surprise attack from the Egyptian air force. And then, in a case of friendly fire, she watched in horror as a missile seemed to target her directly. Somehow she survived that too — though not without a case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

We’ve got the horse right here…

Local Orthodox family wins the Kentucky Derby. Really!

It took American Pharoah barely more than two minutes and two seconds to win the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

For Joanne Zayat of Teaneck, whose husband, Ahmed, owns American Pharoah (and yes, that is how it is spelled), those two minutes and barely more than two seconds stretched out and then blurred and bore little relation to regular time as it usually passes.

There she was — really, there they were, Ahmed and Joanne Zayat, their four children — all Orthodox Jews — and a small crowd of friends and relatives, in one of the owners’ boxes at Churchill Downs in Lexington, Kentucky, on a glorious flowering spring Shabbat, watching as their horse won America’s most iconic horse race.

How did they get there?

 

100 years in Hoboken

United Synagogue’s building celebrates its centennial

Hoboken is surprisingly small, given its outsize reputation.

It’s only got 50,000 residents, and its nickname, Mile Square City, is roughly accurate. (“It actually covers an area of two square miles when including the under-water parts in the Hudson River,” Wikipedia helpfully tells us. It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to count the underwater parts.)

It’s a city with a storied history — Frank Sinatra, “On the Waterfront” and therefore Marlon Brando, gangsters, music, angst, longshoremen, gritty local color. Its lack of parking, which makes finding a space in Manhattan seem relatively as easy as finding one in, say, Montana, is legendary.

For the last few decades, Hoboken’s been home to young people who work in Manhattan but don’t want or can’t afford to live there; it pulses with singles, who might make noises about staying but have tended to move once they’re married and certainly once they have kids.

Hoboken also has a more recent history of apparently being on the cusp, the verge, the very sharp tip of change, but somehow not quite making it.

 
 
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