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entries tagged with: Ahavath Torah


Ahavath Torah begins new chapter,  celebrates its past

A shul with ‘tahm’

Saul Turteltaub and his grandson Max.

Saul Turteltaub, who is perhaps best-known for producing such popular television shows as “Sanford and Son” and “Kate and Allie,” is also the author of a warm, affecting, funny, and as-yet-unpublished memoir of Cong. Ahavath Torah. Called “The Old Shul,” it is a treasure house of nostalgia and wry and poignant insights about his family and community.

The Old Shul as it looked in the early part of the 20th century.

The “Old Shul” of Turteltaub’s manuscript is not the mansion on Broad Street that has been demolished to make way for the new Ahavath Torah, but a building on Englewood Avenue between Armory Street and Bennett Road.

And according to Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the congregation’s current religious leader, there was a still-older shul, built during the summer of 1895 at 33 Humphrey St. in Englewood. “Before that they davened in a home on Liberty Road,” Goldin said in a telephone interview on Monday. “The Humphrey Street lot was bought as a result of a campaign that collected $200.” After 15 years, the congregation moved to the Englewood Avenue site, the “Old Shul” of Turteltaub’s memoir.

“My father, Ben Turteltaub, was president of that synagogue,” Turteltaub recalled last week in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, “and I was bar mitzvahed there.” (See related story.)

The memoir, which he shared with The Jewish Standard, reconstructs — or reimagines — the board’s discussion about leaving the old shul and building “a modern synagogue”:

“What’s a ‘modern synagogue,’ asks member Moish Horowitz, “except all of a sudden it’s called a ‘synagogue’ and not a ‘shul’? It has more commandments? … A modern synagogue we have in this town. It’s where the goyim go on Tenafly Road.”

Turteltaub explains, “He was referring to Temple Emanu-El, the house of worship for Conservative Jews. To Moish and many of the old-timers, a person was either an Orthodox Jew or a goy. And someone who considered himself a Conservative Jew was worse than a gentile. He was not merely the enemy, he was a traitor. The Reformed? Mishugenas altogether.”

The old-timers lost, and the mansion, on the estate of Baroness Cassel Van Dorn, became “the New Shul.”

“It’s very hard to give up your old shul,” Turteltaub writes. “It is a vault of memories of the strongest and deepest kind.”

It had a gymnasium, he recalls — “not because the elders were such sports fans, because they weren’t, and not even so much because they thought the children should have a nice place to play…. Basically, they built it because the Catholic Church had one and they wanted to keep up.”

The New Shul did not have a gymnasium, but, writes Turteltaub, “was the most modern and beautiful house of worship in the entire county” — except that “it didn’t have tahm, a Yiddish word meaning ‘the taste.’ Not ‘taste,’ but ‘the taste.’ For instance, when you are looking for the beef and barley soup that reminds you of your mother’s beef and barley soup, you are not just looking for it to have taste, you are looking for the taste.”

The New Shul, he writes, “tasted like a shul. It had a Torah, a prayerbook, separate sections for men and women, but for those of us who grew up in the Old Shul, it was missing the taste, and that taste for the most part was the flavor of poverty.”

Turteltaub’s mother, Anna, died of a stroke two years and three months before his bar mitzvah, and he noticed, before he was called to the Torah, that his father’s eyes were filled with tears — “I believe it was because he was thinking how terribly wrong it was that poor Anna Turteltaub had died before this day.”

“Benny’s Famous Delicatessen in Hackensack supplied the food and soda, and the wine and schnapps came from Grusky’s in Englewood,” he recalls. “Pop knew nothing about whiskey. To him liqueur was how the gentiles pronounced liquor. So when he learned he could get a dozen mixed bottles of liqueur dirt cheap in 1945, when liquor was hard to get, he took them all. The schnapps at my bar mitzvah included apricot brandy, peach brandy, and a bottle of plum brandy called slivovitz, from Yugoslavia.”

Years later, long after his sons Adam and Jon were bar mitzvahed, he still had the bottle of slivovitz on his shelf, with perhaps a drop in it.

The rabbi at Turteltaub’s bar mitzvah was named Pincus. He was succeeded by Rabbi Bernstein (their first names are lost to history). Bernstein, writes Turteltaub, “didn’t have a chance. He was single. Why he was hired no one knows, but for an Orthodox rabbi with a pulpit to be single is out of the question…. The problem with a rabbi being single is he would be called on in the normal exercise of his duties to be alone in a room with a female member of the congregation.”

This, Turteltaub observes, “makes for an intolerable situation for everyone other than some unhappy married or single women.”

Bernstein soon left to attend medical school, and Turteltaub stresses that “there was never any suspicion of hanky panky” during his tenure.

Then came Rabbi Moshe Gold, who died in his early 40s of a heart attack. He “apparently did kill himself from screaming all the time,” Turteltaub writes. “[H]e thought people should pray during a prayer service. He didn’t agree with three-quarters of the congregation who looked forward to the … services as a great opportunity to kibitz with each other….”

Gold was followed by Rabbi Nussenbaum and then by Rabbi Benjamin Walfish — who officiated at the wedding of Saul and Shirley Turteltaub — and then by Rabbi Isaac Swift.

Swift, Turteltaub notes, “remained in the pulpit of the Old Shul and the New Shul from Rosh HaShanah 1960 until just before Rosh HaShanah 1987, when he retired.”

Turteltaub was “immediately impressed by his appearance. He was well over 6 feet tall, thin, approximately 45 years old and bearded. His prayer shawl was not only wrapped around his shoulders but it was draped from his head, giving him the appearance from the back of a very tall candle.”

But more impressive still was his dramatic — and effective — demand that chattering congregants be quiet. (Ben Turteltaub, his son recalls, summed up their response: “Hooha.”)

“Of all the memories I have of the Old Shul,” Turteltaub writes, “I think the warmest and happiest were those following the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service. It seemed everyone in the shul was filled with love for everyone else. And why not? We had all just spent a full day asking forgiveness for the sins of pettiness, haughtiness, evil thoughts, and evil words…. [W]e kissed each other, shook hands warmly, and wished everyone a happy and good year. The first kiss, of course, was between my father and me, and it was a good and warm one. Then we headed to the back of the shul and down the stairs into the street, where it had become dark….”


Ahavath Torah begins new chapter,  celebrates its past

Rabbi reflects on synagogue’s growth

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Englewood’s Ahavath Torah for some 26 years, attributes the synagogue’s growth and longevity to “good fortune, proximity to New York, a lovely area, and a sense of openness” toward people striving to lead Orthodox lives.

“A good deal of our character was set by the way it started,” said Goldin.

The rabbi, together with his wife, Barbara, will be honored on March 5 and 6 for their years of service to the congregation.

Describing the synagogue’s founders as “a group of people committed to Orthodox Judaism,” Goldin noted that they also were open to recognizing that they themselves were not always themselves ‘there.’”

Barbara and Rabbi Shmuel Goldin Courtesy Rabbi Goldin

“The issue is to keep the community together and find ways to give people the ability to grow … maintaining a balance with a sense of tradition and continuity,” he said. “In each generation, Jewish law is given to us in trust, to use it and shape it and to engage ourselves and our generation.” But, he said, “we must then pass it down to another generation and it must bear a similarity to what we received. It’s a balance between continuity and adaptation — a fascinating amalgam of divine law and human logic.”

Goldin noted that, unlike in many other communities, “there’s been a vision and recognition by the lay leadership [of Ahavath Torah] that what we’re trying to build is one large congregation … rather than a bunch of splinters.”

That is not to say that members don’t have options, he stressed, “but people moving in can see that there is a center to this community. Young people gravitate to that center [and] we make them welcome.”

The Englewood shul, with more than 700 membership units, includes individuals of all ages, he said, with “a great number of young people and lots of children.” Figuring out how to accommodate and program for all these groups is a challenge.

Even in 1983, he said, when he came from Potomac, Md., to lead the Bergen County synagogue, “it was considered a major Orthodox congregation in the New York area.” With roughly 350 family units, the synagogue was then led by noted Rabbi Isaac Swift.

“I considered it to be a terrific opportunity,” Goldin said. He didn’t expect to get the job, being at least 10 years younger than all the other candidates, but the interview was a “great experience.” He met in the living room of longtime member George Feintuch with some “very distinguished looking people.”

Thinking he would probably not be hired, “I was very relaxed,” he said. “But then they started taking me seriously and I got nervous.”

On reflection, said Goldin, “it probably served me well that I was so different from the other candidates.”

Viewing the rabbinate as a “daily adventure,” the rabbi said that each day has presented different challenges. His goals, however, have remained consistent over the years.

“My first goal was to be a rabbi to the community, to serve their needs pastorally, to be there and play a role in their lives in whatever way they needed me,” he said.

He also strived “to keep the community together and grow it [believing that] it is better to be together under one roof with all our differences and points of views than splinter into small congregations.” Fortunately, he noted, the success of that strategy was enabled by the foresight of the lay leadership, giving the congregation a big enough building to accomplish that goal.

While the synagogue hosts numerous minyans, for special occasions — shul dinners, Yom HaShoah commemorations, and the like — congregants “unite for a cause,” said the rabbi. Since he is unable to attend each minyan on a regular basis, he shares this responsibility with the associate rabbi, Chaim Poupko; the rabbinic intern, Aaron Kraft; and the Ahavath Torah scholars, Rabbi Tzvi and Tova Sinensky. The synagogue also employs a yoetzet halakhah, who is available to answer the personal questions of women congregants.

“We just hired an administrator,” said Goldin, musing that “it’s a miracle we did so well without one” up to this point. He attributes this success to volunteerism within the community.

While Goldin feels he has been fairly successful in increasing the learning and Torah commitment of members, “we have a long way to go,” he said. He noted that his sermons and classes are directed toward critical issues “like the internal needs of the community, how can we pull together.”

In addition to adult education programs and scholars-in-residence, Goldin said, he has encouraged the development of groups within the community that study on their own, such as the Isaac Perry Beit Midrash Program.

Goldin said he also feels strongly about his members’ connection to Israel and has led more than 15 missions there. His was the first American congregation to visit Israel during the Iraqi Scud attacks, and in 2002 he spearheaded two rallies in Israel, bringing hundreds of people there to express their solidarity.

Goldin said he wants his members “to be open to the community at large. I’m proud that we have a good relationship with [UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey],” he said. “I work hard at that.”

He said he often cites the teaching about the patriarch Abraham, who described himself at the end of his life as a ger v’toshav, both a stranger and a citizen of the world. “This creates a unique dialectic,” said Goldin, recalling that during the height of the war in Kosovo, he traveled with 12 members of the congregation to work with Muslim Albanian refugee children, together with Israeli volunteers.

“This marks the kind of things we should do more of,” he said, adding that as the congregation settles into its new building, it should “look at ways in which we should play a world role.”

Another of his goals, he said, “is to keep the community abreast of and thinking about critical issues of the day.” He cited, for example, his involvement with NNJKIDS and Jewish Education for Future Generations, which is working to make day-school tuition more affordable for Jewish parents.

While it is important to have vibrant programming, said Goldin, the mark of a successful synagogue is “to try to be there each day and each week. The key to our community is being there every day.” The synagogue boasts four morning minyans as well as daily Minhah/Ma’ariv services.

Goldin, who has five children and four grandchildren, credits his wife, a speech pathologist, with “playing a tremendous role behind the scenes” and giving him some of his best ideas. “She’s not your typical rebbetzin,” he said.

He noted, for example, that it was her idea for him to meet every Friday night with third- to fifth-graders to study the Torah portion of the week.

“That way I get to know the kids pre-bar mitzvah,” he said.

Calling himself a “centrist” on the issue of women’s participation, Goldin said he believes strongly in advanced Torah education for women and “creating places of leadership for them within the Orthodox community that are unique and specific.” However, he added, “we should not attempt to break down role traditions.”

Goldin, who said he was “gratified” that he could concentrate on writing during his sabbatical in Israel three years ago, has published two books, “Unlocking the Torah Text: Bereishit” and “Unlocking the Torah Text: Shemot.” His third book, on Vayikra, will be out soon. (He will speak about and sign his books at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades at 8 p.m. on March 3.) He is also pleased that he has been able to get more involved in the Rabbinical Council of America.

“It’s good for the community as well,” he said, noting that he is now able to tell congregants about things happening outside the community that he might not otherwise have been aware of.

“I can’t believe the years have passed the way they have,” he said. His relationship with the synagogue has been “a wonderful shidduch. I’m grateful to God that we found each other in a fashion that seems to work.”

Goldin pointed to the teaching about Mordecai that he was liked by most of his brothers, not all.

“You do the best you can,” he said. “You do what you think is right and bring others along with you. The new building will enable us to do what we do even better — it’s an absolutely positive move.”


Ahavath Torah begins new chapter,  celebrates its past

The main sanctuary. Photos by Jerry Szubin

Unity is the underlying theme for the formal dedication of Cong. Ahavath Torah’s two-story, 60,000-square-foot synagogue complex, planned for the first weekend in March and culminating in the shul’s annual dinner honoring Rabbi Shmuel and Barbara Goldin.

Yeshiva University President Richard Joel is scheduled to join the Englewood congregation that Shabbat as scholar in residence during services as well as at a Friday night Oneg Shabbat and Saturday afternoon seudah shlishit. A festive Shabbat morning service is to be led by Cantor Chaim Muhlbauer, with Joel delivering remarks to the community.

“President Joel has been instrumental in all our efforts in the last year,” said Drew Parker, Ahavath Torah’s co-president. “He was supportive of our fund-raising efforts and of our community’s unique approach to unity through welcoming many different minyanim and cultures under one roof.”

Parker was referring to Ahavath Torah’s embrace of diverse Orthodox prayer groupings to accommodate Sephardim and Ashkenazim, youth and adults, even early-risers and later-risers. This was one reason the new complex was designed with elements including four sanctuaries in the main building, a two-story wing for a 250-seat sanctuary, beit midrash, and social hall for the 75 families of the congregation’s Sephardic community; a ballroom; multipurpose rooms for Shabbat children’s groups, adult education, and small events; and two kitchens in order to handle more than one affair at the same time.

Goldin stressed that there is much “cross-pollination” among the various worshippers, who mingle in the shul’s great hallway after services. The new synagogue is large enough to include additional minyanim, too. “We’re entertaining the possibility of a family minyan, where young children might be more welcome,” said Goldin.

The “unity” theme is apt, as well, for an event capping the sometimes contentious five-year process that preceded the completion of the multimillion-dollar edifice.

Last summer, congregants learned that while the “hard cost” of construction was first estimated at $15.5 million, the actual price tag was $22 million, excluding “soft costs” for architect fees and rental of the climate-controlled tent that housed the congregation since the 2006 demolition of the old, sprawling mansion on the former Broad Avenue estate of Baroness Cassel Van Dorn in which the congregation had been based since 1960.

The project’s higher expense was partly due to the later inclusion of a mikvah with a private entrance. Expected to be completed in the next few months, as is the Sephardic center, the mikvah will house seven dressing rooms, two mikvah pools, and a separate pool for immersing cooking and eating utensils. Englewood has never before had sufficient ritual bath facilities for its Jewish population; the independent Englewood Mikva Association runs a small mikvah on the grounds of Cong. Shomrei Emunah on Huguenot Street.

Though the Ahavath Torah membership ultimately approved a 75 percent rise in dues and assumption of a permanent mortgage (the amount of which synagogue officers declined to specify), the lay and rabbinic leadership pledged to address any lingering resentments. Before the new building’s opening last Labor Day, Goldin commented to The Jewish Standard, “We have a lot of work to do, as we always have in a community like ours with disparate points of view.”

This week, Goldin reported that “there’s been a tremendous amount of positive energy generated upon moving into the new building. Our various minyanim are working out very nicely, and the general feel is that we’re home, that we’re in.”

Parker said he views the dedication festivities as an appropriate time to acknowledge the Goldins’ contributions to the immediate and greater community. The rabbi, an instructor of Bible and philosophy at Yeshiva University’s college for men, is also active in the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, SINAI Special Needs Institute, the Rabbinical Council of America; Israel Bonds; the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey; and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Bergen County.

Former Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, an Ahavath Torah member, and the city council have all been invited to participate, along with rabbinic colleagues of Goldin. The dinner highlight is to be a video presentation featuring tributes to the rabbinic couple from participants in the shul’s various minyanim, as well as interviews with their children.


Orthodox rabbinical parley to address women’s leadership

Rabba Sara Hurwitz lectures to a group of junior high school students who attended the recent conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. Josh Newman

With a high-profile discussion scheduled on women’s leadership and two proposed rules aimed at marginalizing rabbis who deviate leftward on hot-button issues, an upcoming Orthodox rabbinical conference is expected to draw its largest crowd in years.

The Rabbinical Council of America’s three-day conference set to begin Sunday in Scarsdale, N.Y., comes just months after the near-ordination of a female rabbi by one of the RCA’s highest-profile members drew a sharp rebuke from the haredi Orthodox leadership of Agudath Israel of America.

“I think it will be one of the more exciting RCA conventions,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, the council’s first vice president, seeking to put a positive spin on what also could prove to be a highly divisive gathering of mostly Modern Orthodox rabbis.

Two amendments to the RCA convention that have been put forward are clear reactions to the controversy sparked by Rabbi Avi Weiss’ decision in January to confer the title “rabba” — a feminized version of rabbi — on Sara Hurwitz, a member of the clerical staff of his New York synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

Following the Agudah condemnation and discussions with RCA officials, Weiss stated that he did not intend to confer the rabba title on anyone else, saying Orthodox unity was of more pressing importance.

One amendment effectively would expel from the council any member who “attempts to ordain as a member of the rabbinate, or to denominate as ‘rabbinical’ or as ‘clergy,’ a person not eligible to serve as such as those terms are understood under the policies and positions of the RCA.”

A second amendment would bar from officer positions anyone who is a member of another national rabbinic group “whose principles or tenets of faith are antithetical or contrary to the policies and positions of the RCA.”

Weiss is one of the founders of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, a liberal Orthodox group founded, in part, to serve as an umbrella for graduates of Weiss’ rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Graduates of the school have been unable to secure automatic membership in the RCA, which has never taken a public position on the fellowship.

RCA insiders say adoption of the measures, neither of which would be retroactive, is unlikely. But their existence still points to a tug within the organization between those seeking to maintain the council as a broadly inclusive group and those who want to draw firmer lines.

“The RCA leadership has always been centrist,” said one RCA official involved in planning for the conference. “The rank-and-file rabbis, those on the front lines, can’t afford to be radicals on either end. But it’s getting harder and harder to promote an RCA which is led by the center, but which includes the whole range.”

Following the Weiss controversy, the RCA announced that women’s leadership would be placed on the conference agenda. A committee is in the late stages of crafting a policy on the issue.

The policy, which will have to be ratified by the membership, would express general support for women’s scholarship and their assumption of appropriate leadership roles while drawing the line at ordaining them as rabbis. But lately there has been resistance from those seeking stronger language marking certain functions as forbidden.

“The committee expects for there to be pushback and perhaps alternate language from both the right and the left,” said the RCA official.

Whether any formulation could quell the controversy is unclear. Weiss has never backed down from his view that Hurwitz is a member of the synagogue’s rabbinic staff, though he says the school he is launching to train women will bestow a title other than rabba.

Moreover, several women now serve important Modern Orthodox congregations in various capacities — some of which clearly overlap with traditional rabbinic functions.

The results of a survey to be presented at the convention show a clear consensus among RCA members against granting “smicha,” or ordination, to women, according to an official involved in the council’s strategic planning process. On other issues, the official said, there is no “strong consensus.”

The policy that the council is to enact on women’s leadership will likely remain vague on specifics as a result. Its drafters say that a policy of calculated ambiguity is necessary in part to maintain unity across a broad range of opinion.

“I believe that we can have clarity on the red lines and have a degree of inclusiveness in the areas that are not as clear,” said Goldin, religious leader of Cong. Ahavath Torah in Englewood. “We as an organization have to provide latitude for members within the organization to be able to follow their conscience in areas that are not black and white.”

But it is precisely that approach that has encountered some turbulence and that is leading some to push the organization toward a firmer line.

“I think there’s a need for clarity,” said Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, an RCA regional vice president and religious leader of Cong. Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck. Pruzansky said he supports the amendments in principle, adding, “What we don’t want to offer the public is a blurring of the lines, that the RCA is all things to all people.”



‘The answers lie in our love for our daughter’


Dangerous crossing made safer

Solar-powered lighting placed in front of Englewood’s Ahavath Torah

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 23 September 2011

Pay attention.

That is the message being sent by the stretch of Broad Avenue in Englewood in front of Cong. Ahavath Torah.

Last week, 80 solar-powered colored LED lights were embedded in the street and curb in front of the synagogue.

This is the latest effort in an ongoing safety campaign at the synagogue, following the death of Dr. Paul Kudowitz in a hit-and-run accident while walking home from Ahavath Torah on a Friday night last year.

“It’s part of a comprehensive safety plan,” said Englewood Police Chief Arthur O’Keefe, who oversaw the installation of the new safety measures. “We’re working to improve street lighting and cut down shrubbery that’s blocking signs, while educating people to wear reflective clothing when they walk, and to walk on the side of the road facing traffic.”

The lights themselves were donated by their manufacturer, Luna Road, after Englewood was unable to fund the project itself.

“We don’t say no to saving people’s lives,” said Luna founder Tomas Sheleg, explaining the donation of $30,000 worth of lights. The Israel-born inventor and former Bergen-county resident has previously donated solar-powered lighting to a Haitian refugee camp.

Sheleg’s lights use solar-charged batteries to run high-efficiency colored lights.

In front of Ahavath Torah, blue lights line the curb, and red lights mark the crosswalk.

Now, “both pedestrians and drivers have a bigger awareness of the fact that this is the point where accidents may happen. The driver can see the crosswalk from half a mile away. Because of the flashing lights, the pedestrian notices that he’s entering the crosswalk.”

“It draws attention to the shul as an area where drivers should be more careful,” said Shmuel Goldin, the congregation’s rabbi. “It’s wonderful that it brings together the synagogue and the town and their cooperation with us. We’ve been having regular meetings with the police chief and other officials concerning safety around the shul. The police have been very supportive and helpful, as have the other city officials.”

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