image
The new Young Israel of Fort Lee will be built on this site. Charles Zusman

A fenced-in lot lies empty at the corner of Parker Avenue and Old Palisades Road in Fort Lee, its only occupant a large backhoe. But the members of Cong. Young Israel envision a beautiful new synagogue rising on the site, they hope by Rosh HaShanah.

Their plans took a key step forward a week ago Tuesday when the Fort Lee Board of Adjustment approved variances, which were needed because the new building will occupy a larger footprint on the building lot than did the old structure, and there is no off-street parking. The next step is the submission of engineering plans for final Planning Board approval.

In an interview, building committee members Albert Nissim and Israel Frumer spoke of the old building, which was torn down last month, and the plans for the new. Rebuilding was a matter of necessity, not choice, said Nissim, because the old building, built in 1980, had deteriorated.

The new two-story building will have the same number of seats in the sanctuary, 205, but will be more spacious, Nissim said. The steel structure will allow building without support beams and columns in the sanctuary, making for a spacious area, he said.

“The sight lines will be excellent,” Nissim said, speaking of the unobstructed view from both the men’s and women’s sections. The sections will be side be side, with a mechitza running down the middle.

The Ark will face east, to Jerusalem, Frumer said. In the old synagogue it did not.

In a telephone interview, Rabbi Neil Winkler told of the congregation’s beginnings, in the 1970s, as a small group of people meeting in rented and borrowed spaces. Winkler arrived in 1978, when Young Israel was officially formed and became the first Orthodox congregation in Fort Lee, with some 20 to 25 families, he said.

There were a few setbacks, but the congregation continued to grow, Winkler said, and the new building was ready in 1980. Winkler recalled a few incidents of vandalism, a sad reminder of Kristallnacht for many of the founding members, who were Holocaust survivors, he said.

The growth has been slow but steady, and the membership is now up to 122 families. The rabbi said that Young Israel paved the way and now there are two other Orthodox synagogues in Fort Lee – the Sephardic congregation Ohel Shalom and Chabad of Fort Lee.

Young Israel has morning and evening minyans every day of the week, making the congregation unique in the town, Frumer said with pride.

The new building will offer physical comforts – a spacious entryway, modern restrooms, a large kiddush room on the second floor, offices for the rabbi and synagogue administrator, and an elevator.

Although exterior plans are not final, it will be a “very pretty” brick and stucco combination, Nissim said. “It will blend in with the surrounding area” of houses and apartment buildings, he added.

“We are hoping to involve the community around us, to share our joy,” Nissim said. He called the location ideal, with an open-space feeling and across from a park.

Nissim and Frumer said that the congregation is largely composed of older empty-nesters, many of whom moved from their homes to apartments in Fort Lee. That trend is likely to continue, Nissim and Frumer said, noting that Young Israel is unique in the area in that it is an Orthodox shul within walking distance of many apartment buildings.

The rabbi said that while the members are mostly older people, “we always had a number of younger couples, and we’ve always reached out to them.” The increased space of the new building will allow for classes and activities for youngsters, he added.

For now the congregation is in cramped quarters in a house it owns next to the site of the new synagogue. Members hope construction can begin on their new home next month.