|Dancers accompany new, silver-encased, Sephardi-style scrolls to their home. Lauren Casselberry|
It’s not every day that a new synagogue opens in Hoboken.
In fact, the September 14 dedication of the Weisfeld Family Chabad Jewish Center of Hoboken at 80 Park Avenue marked the first time since 1947 that a new synagogue building opened in this Hudson County city of 50,000 residents.
That milestone alone was enough to bring out the press, the mayor and about 300 participants for a police-escorted parade with floats and live music, a ribbon-cutting and mezuzah-affixing ceremony, and a celebratory outdoor luncheon.
But there was another special element to the day’s festivities.
Chabad’s grand opening was highlighted by the completion of a new Torah scroll and a scroll of the haftarah readings, brought over by scribe Shaul Baruch from Jerusalem. In the Sephardic tradition, both scrolls are enclosed in elaborate silver-plated cases. The case surrounding the haftarah scroll is inscribed with the names of the 64 Israeli soldiers recently killed in action in Operation Protective Edge.
“A young member of our community, Ori Cohen, commissioned this beautiful Torah to be written and we planned a couple of months back to dedicate it before Rosh Hashanah,” says Rabbi Moshe Z Schapiro. “After the 64 soldiers died, we asked the fellow who built the boxes in Petach Tikvah to engrave all their names on the cover of the haftarah scroll.”
The artisan subsequently received orders from 22 other synagogues also wanting Torah cases inscribed with the soldiers’ names, says Rabbi Schapiro.
And when a young Israeli locksmith came to secure the invaluable scrolls in the ark, Rabbi Schapiro showed him the case. “He said his roommate died in Gaza last month and he found his name there. He was very moved. Now we have a wonderful picture of this young locksmith putting on tefillin.”
Mr. Cohen also donated the labor of his carwash construction team to renovate the Jewish center’s new home. He explains: “I thought, if I’m going to donate a Torah, let’s have a beautiful place to put it.”
The Israeli army veteran says he commissioned the Torah in gratitude for the birth of his daughter nearly two years ago; now he and his wife also have a month-old son. The haphtarah scroll was dedicated to the memory of a cousin who passed away three years ago. Following the war in Gaza, he felt that adding the fallen soldiers’ names “was something we had to do.”
Rabbi Schapiro relates that the Chabad of Hoboken, which until now has met in various rented spaces, was established just after 9/11. The terror attack on the Twin Towers claimed more lives from Hoboken than from any other New Jersey municipality.
The city’s proximity to lower Manhattan makes it popular with young white-collar workers, and many Israeli singles and families have moved in. “There are three buildings they call ‘the little kibbutz’ because so many Israelis live in them,” says Rabbi Schapiro.
The Chabad started a Sunday school with two children three years ago, and now boasts 35 children, all of whom participated in the dedication festivities.
“The true message of completing a Torah is that children are our future to make sure the words of the Torah will be kept,” says the rabbi, recalling Elie Wiesel’s memory of a Jewish child standing in for a Torah scroll on the night of Simchat Torah in Auschwitz.
The Chabad center also offers a Monday night class on the weekly Torah portion and a monthly Shabbat dinner that attracts up to 80 people. Planned next is a monthly social event for young Jewish professionals, featuring a full meal and an open bar. “Hoboken has the most bars per capita in America, so we’ll bring the bar to us,” says Rabbi Schapiro.
The 1,840-square-foot building, whose entrance is on Newark Street, has two main rooms – one for the sanctuary and one for children’s services and Kiddush – in addition to a kitchen and offices. Rabbi Schapiro says Shabbat services are attended by between 30 and 50 people, and on the High Holidays he expects more than 100 worshippers from Hoboken, Jersey City, and surrounding communities.
The grand opening began with the completion of the Torah’s final 25 letters, followed by the parade and dancing in front of City Hall just across from the famous Carlo’s Bakery where the cable TV series “Cake Boss” is filmed.
“It was truly something extraordinary,” says Rabbi Schapiro.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer presided over the ribbon-cutting with Alan Weisfeld and family, who sponsored the renovation of the building. Mr. Cohen put the mezuzah on the doorpost. A shofar blast capped off the ceremonies followed by the sit-down lunch under a tent for 200 people.
“It was amazing,” says Mr. Cohen. “I felt like I was at my wedding. There were so many people, Jewish and not Jewish, dancing in the streets. All of the effort I put in, I got everything back that day.”