Expanding after covid
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Expanding after covid

Young Israel of Teaneck dedicates its new building

Young Israel of Teaneck’s new building will be dedicated this weekend.
Young Israel of Teaneck’s new building will be dedicated this weekend.

On a snowy December Shabbat in 1991, Orthodox residents of the Country Club section of Teaneck decided it was time to think about starting a neighborhood minyan.

The closest Orthodox shul was Congregation Beth Aaron on Queen Anne Road, across busy Teaneck Road and up a formidable hill. The mile-or-more walk could be challenging, even impossible, if bad weather, strollers, wheelchairs, or mobility issues were involved.

For the next few years, the roving Country Club minyan met in members’ homes. In December 1993, the group became affiliated with the National Council of Young Israel, an umbrella organization with approximately 175 branch synagogues throughout the United States, Canada, and Israel.

Finally, in 1997, 25 member families bought a house on a one-acre property at 868 Perry Lane and converted the garage and family room into worship space for the Young Israel of Teaneck.

As the community grew, so did the synagogue. There was an expansion in 2004, when the membership reached 125 families.

And this year, on November 12-13, the congregation of about 250 member families will formally dedicate its new building, which had been completed before Rosh Hashanah of 2020.

Yaakov Pultman, a founding member and chair of the expansion committee, said, “Over the course of covid, we knocked down a building, built a building, and moved into a building. It was an incremental move because of social distancing; a cautious and slow process. By the spring of 2021 we were pretty much moved in.”

The main sanctuary, which used to seat 300 people, now accommodates 450. A beit midrash — auxiliary sanctuary and study room — can hold about 200 people comfortably. The building includes a social hall available for event rental and eight rooms for Shabbat children’s groups.

“We get about 100 kids each week, for programming from pre-nursery to junior congregation,” YIOT’s president, Michael Gutlove, said.

“We are the only Orthodox synagogue in Country Club, and because of that, everyone who is interested in an Orthodox synagogue comes to us. It doesn’t matter their background, their experience level, or their knowledge base. Everyone is welcome, and the beauty of our community is how diverse we are.”

Mr. Pultman said the need for a new building became apparent five years ago, when the board saw that membership was approaching 200 families.

“We had needs well beyond the structure, so in 2017 we decided to embark on an expansion exploration,” he said. “We talked to the membership and asked what they wanted. We had focus groups and surveys, we brought a committee together, and we fundraised and developed a game plan by 2020.”

Extensive conversations were initiated with the 13 neighbors surrounding the property. “For about 95 percent of the project we had no opposition at all,” Mr. Pultman said. “We have had complex and ongoing discussions about the outdoor space with the township and with the neighbors. It’s not fully resolved yet, but we’ve always had good relations with our neighbors and it’s important that we continue to work on that.”

The synagogue was designed by SNS Architects of Montvale and constructed by KV Builders of Hawthorne. “Kenn Visbeen of KV Builders was an absolute joy to work with,” Mr. Pultman said. “He believes his mission on this planet is to help build houses of worship.”

Plans for the dedication weekend — a “chanukat habayit” in Hebrew — include a Friday night address by scholar-in-residence Rabbi Judah Mischel, a native of Monsey who has lived in Israel for 19 years and returns to the United States each summer to direct Camp HASC for special-needs children. He is the author of “Ba-Derech: Along the Path of Teshuva.”

“Rav Mischel was supposed to be the scholar-in-residence at our synagogue the week that all the synagogues shut down because of covid,” Mr. Gutlove said. “When we started talking about planning our chanukat habayit, we decided it would be great if it would work with his schedule. And he made it a priority to come in from Israel for this.”

Shul member Mordy Weinstein of the a cappella group Six13 will lead Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night, while the musaf portion of the morning service will be led by another member, Ari Greene of the BaRock Orchestra.

“We’re a community of volunteers,” Mr. Gutlove said. “Everybody pitches in, everybody uses their skill sets. Having Mordy and Ari join us to enhance the weekend is an absolute thrill.”

The agenda, planned by event co-chairs Jen Babich and Ariana Dalezman, includes a Saturday night dessert reception keynoted by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, who lives in Teaneck and is a professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought at Yeshiva University. Many of the congregation’s children will celebrate the culmination of a learn-athon.

“We’ve had a very successful parent-child learning program that takes place during the summer on Shabbat afternoons and during the fall and winter after Shabbat,” Mr. Gutlove said.

“The last summer session had over 80 families filling our social hall, and it really opened our eyes to the success of the program. We figured, what better way to have a chanukat habayit than to challenge the children to learn with their extended family?

“In that way, we are not only honoring the past but also honoring the future, allowing the kids to participate. They will have their own melave malka” — a festive meal after Shabbat — “and their own grand raffle culminating six to eight weeks of learning and fundraising.”

Mr. Gutlove explained that the YIOT leadership and event chairs wanted the chanukat habayit “to be more than just a big kiddush. To borrow a line from Yaakov, this isn’t a museum. We intend to use this building, to take the proverbial training wheels off and use it as much as we can.”

Rabbi Beni Krohn, now in his eighth year as YIOT’s spiritual leader, noted the hard work that went into creating the new building.

“We now have the appropriate space for our youth programming, our adult education lectures and programs, and our family celebrations,” Rabbi Krohn said. “Our new main sanctuary has created a more accessible and inclusive experience for men and women.

“Beyond the pragmatic features of the new space, creating a beautiful shul allows the membership to feel proud of our community and excited to be a part of everything we have going on,” he added.

“And it is my hope that the energy and excitement felt by those who are already members spreads beyond our walls to those who have not yet experienced our warm and friendly community.”

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