|Congregation Shaare Zedek|
The last synagogue in West New York turns 100 next week.
Congregation Shaare Zedek continues to hold Shabbat services, although attendance has dwindled to just over a minyan.
The small, square-mile town now has nearly 50,000 residents – more than twice as many as in 1912.
While the town has grown, however, the Jewish population has mostly moved out.
Daniel Kaminsky lives in Oradell, but he has assumed – inherited? – responsibility for keeping the synagogue afloat.
Kaminsky’s great-grandfather was among the congregation’s founders.
“The immigrants came from Russia and Poland, and landed in West New York. The synagogue’s Roman dome and marble building was just state of the art. It was totally incredible all through the ’50s and ’60s. We used to have 500 members,” he says.
Kaminsky grew up in Cliffside Park, but he remembers visiting his grandfather in West New York. “He had a kosher butcher shop,” Kaminsky remembers. “The whole street was lined with Jewish population.”
In the 1970s, Kaminsky says, Jewish residents began moving to Bergen county. “Over the years, the minyan dwindled to four or five worshipers.”
Kaminsky was recruited by his grandfather’s brother to help make the minyan each Shabbat. He started to drag his father along too.
Now, attendance has bounced up to around 13.
That includes a couple of other descendants of congregants; three or four Cuban Jews, part of the town’s large Cuban community (the town is 80 percent Hispanic); and even one Israeli family.
Unfortunately, Shaare Zedek has more tzoris than the challenge of gathering 10 men on a Shabbat morning. (The congregation is Orthodox.)
There’s a need to repair a leaking roof, and fix the stained glass windows which stood for a century until last year’s hurricane.
And then there’s a lawsuit, which has already cost tens of thousands of dollars to litigate. It involved plans to sell the building but without the authorization of the membership – which numbers about 60 and is scattered across the country.
The matter is before the courts.
At stake is a building Kaminsky estimates is worth $4 million – and the future of the institution his great-grandfather founded with high hopes.
“We have no money,” says Kaminsky. “We have a lot of heart.”