Shevi and Rabbi Benjamin Yudin opened the doors to their Fair Lawn home 37 years ago and have no intention of closing them.
Shomrei Torah will celebrate its 40th anniversary this weekend with a special Shabbaton that will also honor its rabbi of 37 years and his wife. Tonight and tomorrow will be marked as "Shabbat of Celebration," featuring speakers such as author Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn and some of the shul’s founders.
Rabbi Benjamin and Shevi Yudin
Rhoda Schneider and her late husband George were one of the founding couples of Fair Lawn’s first Orthodox shul. When they decided to start a congregation in 1966, they held services at the Jewish War Veterans building. In 1969 Yeshiva University sent the fledgling congregation one of its new graduates and provided seed money for programs. The Yudins moved to Fair Lawn and the congregation of ‘8 families began meeting in their basement on Morlot Avenue.
"These families gathered every week and tried to bring holiness into the basement," said Shevi Yudin.
In 1973 the congregation moved out of the rabbi’s basement and into his living and dining rooms. An addition was built onto the house to hold the growing congregation. Word got out that there was a welcoming rabbi and rebbetzin, Schneider said, and the shul continued to grow. In 1981, Shomrei Torah moved across the street from the Yudins.
Eight years ago, Schneider and her husband moved from Fair Lawn to Manalapan in central New Jersey, but they still remained members of Shomrei Torah. Some five years ago, Rhoda Schneider brought her husband home from the hospital for hospice care. He was dying of cancer and his wife wanted to make him as comfortable as possible. It was erev yom tov, the end of Pesach. Even though they were now about an hour away from Fair Lawn, with just two or three hours before the start of the holiday, the rabbi showed up at the Schneiders’ door bearing cake from his wife. "What rabbi would do that?" Schneider said. "They go the extra mile that is never expected of anyone."
"Rabbi Yudin and Mrs. Yudin have endeared themselves to all that have come in contact with them," said Rabbi Robert Hirt, the rabbi who originally sent the Yudins to Fair Lawn and is now senior adviser to the president of Yeshiva University. "This has resulted in a congregation that has thrived in a beautiful way."
YU has provided seed money to more than 150 synagogues through the years. Many of New Jersey’s Orthodox rabbis are graduates, but none have been with their congregations as long as Yudin.
Noting that the congregation originally met in the Yudins’ home, Hirt said, "Many rabbis and rebbetzins would not have wanted that proximity. Where the rabbi is accessible and welcoming, that is the most attractive feature in making people feel that’s the place they want to be."
Howard and Caren Eisenstadter came to Fair Lawn 16 years ago. In ‘000, Caren Eisenstadter gave birth to the couple’s third child at New York Hospital the day before Pesach. Both were worried she would be sent home during that year’s three-day yom tov (the third day fell on Shabbat). Before the birth, Howard Eisenstadter and Rabbi Yudin researched the family’s options from a halachic perspective. Yudin stayed up until ‘ a.m. the morning before Pesach began, arranging for Caren and the newborn Avi to stay in an apartment in the city near the hospital. The Yudins then arranged for a driver to pick up Eisenstadter and her baby to bring them to where the rest of the family was celebrating Pesach. This is typical behavior for the Yudins, Howard Eisenstadter said, especially when dealing with the ill.
"Not only will Shevi cook for them, but Rabbi Yudin shows up at their house 10 minutes before Shabbos to drop off a kugel," he said, adding that it "makes you feel more like a friend than a congregant, and more like a family member than a neighbor."
Rabbi Yudin would like others to act the same way.
"As the synagogue grows in numbers, [members] should realize their responsibility to one another as well," he said. "We shouldn’t be asking ‘what can the synagogue can do for me,’ but rather ‘what can I do for my synagogue and what can I do for my community?’ That’s what makes the synagogue grow."
Abe Fishweicher and his wife Renee moved to Fair Lawn ‘7 years ago, when they were both ‘4. There were only four other young couples in Shomrei Torah when they came to town, Fishweicher said. During the next 1’ years, they watched at least 100 families move to Fair Lawn from the New York area.
"The people were lovely and they seemed eager to grow," recalled Shevi Yudin of the shul’s early years. "Everybody who came had a purpose. There were all these dedicated families. We tried to have an open door where people are welcome."
As more new families move to the area, both Yudins hope that they will be as dedicated as the founding members. There was a certain excitement for the families that came many years ago and struggled to make Shomrei Torah and Fair Lawn what it is today, said the rabbi. "Too often you come to a community and find everything there for you. People should appreciate that which was done for them in the past, and realize that like in business, you always want to improve."