Chabad center has begun renting space in Fair Lawn’s Temple Avoda with an intent to buy it, at the same time that the borough’s only Reform congregation is negotiating to merge with another shul.
Avoda entered discussions earlier this summer with Temple Sholom in River Edge, which is also Reform. The two shuls have already agreed to merge their Hebrew schools, which will meet in River Edge in the coming school year.
Temple Avoda, Fair Lawn’s only Reform synagogue, may be sold to a Chabad group.
Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Sholom would not comment beyond confirming this.
Similarly, Baruch Gadot, Avoda’s president, also declined comment until a deal has been solidified.
Temple Avoda’s Rabbi Jonathan Woll told The Jewish Standard that a deal is likely after the High Holidays. His contract has not been part of the discussions and he said he expects not to be Avoda’s religious leader after Simchat Torah. Woll has been with Avoda for almost ‘0 years.
A shrinking membership, particularly of families with children, was a catalyst for the merger discussions, he said.
During Woll’s career with the temple, the Hebrew school reached 1’0 children at its height in the early ’90s. At one time during the 1970s, he said, the school had between ’00 and ’50 students. Now, it has fewer than 30 children enrolled.
"The merger of the Hebrew school was the board’s way of dealing with the small Hebrew school," Woll said. "It could no longer handle the financial burden."
Woll said he plans to remain in Fair Lawn and create a chavurah, not necessarily affiliated with the Reform movement but based on similar values.
"I am grateful to the many members of Temple Avoda who continued their membership and participation in synagogue life here," he said. "They are the stalwarts and supporters of Reform Jewish living in Fair Lawn. It is their kind of courage of conviction, loyalty, and participation that allow synagogues to do their work."
While praising the synagogue’s current membership, Woll seemingly laid blame for the temple’s financial situation at the feet of members who have left the shul without regard for its future.
"I am also grateful to the former members of Temple Avoda who continue to live their Jewish lives at home and in other synagogues," he said. "Their lives too are testimony to their commitment to sustaining and growing Jewish life, keeping it fresh and progressive. Those Jews who used Temple Avoda or any other synagogue as a way station and left the synagogue behind after their ‘needs’ were satisfied, I hope they don’t ask, ‘What happened to Temple Avoda?’"
This is one of a handful of synagogue mergers in recent years. In ‘006, Fair Lawn’s second-oldest Conservative synagogue, Cong. B’nai Israel, merged with the borough’s oldest Conservative shul, the Fair Lawn Jewish Center-Cong. Etz. Chaim. The Elmwood Park Jewish Center closed and merged with Fair Lawn’s Temple Beth Sholom last year. The Reform Temple of Suffern-Shir Shalom merged with Mahwah’s Beth Haverim, also last year, to create Beth Haverim-Shir Shalom. The leadership of Bergenfield’s Cong. Beth Israel of Northern Valley approved a merger with Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Sholom in May.
"Clearly people today are more willing to leave the community and go to a synagogue in another community and not feel community-bound," Woll said. "That’s been going on for a long time, but that is something that has increased in value to individuals. There are probably just as many Jews in Fair Lawn today as there were but they’re willing to go elsewhere."
The Anshei Lubavitch Outreach Center, one of two unrelated Chabad centers in Fair Lawn, has begun renting space in Avoda, and, said its director, Rabbi Levi Neubort, "We intend to buy the building within the next few months if everything works out. Things are moving forward. Dealings with [Avoda] have been very, very good."
Neubort said he did know what would become of Chabad’s current building, on Plaza Road. That decision will not be made until after the move.
Anshei Lubavitch has 90 children in its preschool and draws about 100 for Shabbat services, Neubort said.