ENGLEWOOD Hundreds of people followed three musicians from the warmth of Cong. Ahavath Torah’s temporary structure to the construction site outdoors where a golden shovel signified the ceremonial groundbreaking of the synagogue’s new building on Sunday.
The $17 million, 60,000 square-foot synagogue will provide new resources for the growing community, shul leaders said.
The board had been discussing the idea of expansion for 15 years, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin told The Jewish Standard. The decision to go with a new building was made close to five years ago, but fund-raising paused when the second intifada began.
Rep. Steve Rothman, Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, Ahavath Torah president Kenny Eckstein, and Rabbi Shmuel Goldin broke ground on the synagogue’s new building at ’40 Broad St. in Englewood.
"We put it on hold to raise money for Israel rather than our needs," he said. "Once that passed, we got back to work."
Because Ahavath Torah had converted its previous building from an old mansion, it didn’t meet the needs of the expanding community, Goldin added. "If we wanted to grow and continue to provide proper worship services, we really had to do something."
Founded in 1895, Ahavath Torah has met in three locations in this city, not including its current tent. First at 33 Humphrey St. in a building only 18 by 30 feet, the shul moved to 109 Englewood Ave. in 1910, where it remained until 1958, when it bought a building from the estate of Dutch Baroness Cassel Van Dorn. Now, with more than 750 member-families, Ahavath Torah is the largest Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey.
About 400 people showed up for Sunday’s event, including notables like U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, and the ceremony’s speaker, Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University.
Rothman’s parents had joined Ahavath Torah in 1948 and he attended the shul until his family moved to Fair Lawn when he was 11.
"I have seen Cong. Ahavath Torah grow ever since I was born," Rothman, a former mayor of Englewood, told the crowd inside the giant tent, which was decked out with floral arrangements, balloons, and yellow plastic construction hats.
Lamm asked, rhetorically, why so little is mentioned in the Torah about the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, while a a festival is centered around the Maccabees’ rededication. He likened the celebration of Chanukah to the massive turnout for Ahavath Torah’s groundbreaking.
"Rebuilding the Temple with participation, with pleasure, that’s worthy of celebration. As beautiful as [the original dedication of Ahavath Torah] might have been, your rededication is worth so much more," he said. "If you can do so well in a bubble, imagine what you can do in a firm structure," he added, referring to the synagogue’s temporary location in a 17,000 square-foot tent next to the construction site.
"We have a lot to be thankful for," Goldin said of the temporary structure. "It has minyan locations for all the various services and places for the kids. It’s tight and we have a lot of cooperating to do, but everybody seems to be putting themselves into it."
The new building will feature two levels with four separate sanctuaries and a ballroom. A 1’3-foot gallery corridor lined with Judaic art will lead people through the first floor, which will hold three of the sanctuaries, an administration area, a 6,300 square-foot social hall, and the Sephardic Center, which will host the shul’s Sephardic minyan. The ‘0,000 square-foot lower level will feature a youth center, library, multi-purpose rooms, and a mikvah.
"This new shul is the ultimate creation of something holy here on earth," said Mayor Michael Wildes, an Ahavath Torah congregant, at the groundbreaking.
Construction on the new facility is expected to be complete by ‘008.