|NMJC’s representatives include, from left, its president, Ralph Gerber; Gerry Simmons; Arthur Abrams; Arnie Brown, at rear, and Dr. Keith Springer. The JCCP’s Rabbi Arthur Weiner and Cantor Sam Weiss join them at right. Sandra Alpern|
In 1951, the “Tri-Borough Jewish Community Center” was founded to serve the new suburban Jewish communities of New Milford, Oradell, and River Edge.
On Sunday, the congregation, which since 1955 was housed in New Milford, and known as the New Milford Jewish Center – Congregation Beth Tikvah, moved its three Torah scrolls two miles to the west, to the Jewish Community Center of Paramus. Part of its name went along with it ““ the Paramus synagogue will add the Beth Tikvah moniker to its name, to become the Jewish Community Center of Paramus/ Congregation Beth Tikvah.
“We are not calling it a merger,” said Jacob Bauer, first vice president at the Paramus synagogue and chair of its merger committee. “A merger means someone’s taking the other over. We named it a joining agreement. It shows they are joining us and are being considered equals. That is extremely important.”
Both congregations are Conservative.
The New Milford congregation has about 120 member units, and the Paramus congregation has about 450.
“At one point, we had more than that in the way of students in the Hebrew school,” said Bob Nesoff, a past president and 30-year member of the New Milford congregation. But things have changed. It hasn’t had a Hebrew school at all for several years, he said.
Nesoff said that his congregation had held talks with other synagogues about possible mergers but felt that Paramus “was the best option.
“We know a lot of the people there,” he said. “They know us. A lot of our congregants go there for morning and evening services when they have to.”
New Milford did not have a daily minyan.
What New Milford did have – and Paramus did not – was a weekly egalitarian minyan. In 1999, the New Milford congregation went fully egalitarian, treating women and men equally. Paramus has transitioned to egalitarianism only partially, with egalitarian services being held alongside traditional worship on the High Holy Days and twice a month. The influx of new members will enable the combined congregation to offer both options every Shabbat and holiday.
“We’re very delighted to welcome them and partner with them for the benefit of both of our communities,” Rabbi Arthur Weiner of the Paramus congregation said. “We want this to be a real joining and a real partnership.
“It’s hard for a congregation to make the decision to merge. We respect how difficult it was for the officers and members. Having done so, we’re all working to make it a great success. I believe we’re on the right track.”
Weiner said his congregation mostly draws from Paramus and from River Edge and Oradell, which lie between Paramus and New Milford.
For Sunday’s Torah ceremony, the Torah scrolls were driven from New Milford to the River Dell Middle School in River Edge and then carried to the Jewish Community Center, about a mile away. More events to mark the merger are planned toward the end of the summer.
Bauer said his immediate priority is making sure that the New Milford members feel part of the community “on an equal basis.
“They’re leaving brick and mortar behind, and still bringing their heart and soul into our community,” he said.
“By the holidays, their yarzheit plaques will be posted in our sanctuary. I can tell them, when you come into the sanctuary, you will see your loved ones there, those names, so you feel continuity, a sense of belonging.”
Beth Tikvah’s building, constructed in 1965, is being sold to a Korean Presbyterian church, for around $1 million.
Rabbi Bob Mark, who joined Beth Tikvah in 2009 as a part-time rabbi (and who had been Torah reader at the Paramus JCC for several years before that) will start as rabbi of the Clifton Jewish Center on July 1.
He said he strongly supported the merger.
“It’s the right thing for Beth Tikvah,” he said.