Married professionals in their ‘0s or 30s wanted to help revitalize an established Jewish community. Convenient commute to New York City and easy access to routes 4, 17, 80, ’08, and the Garden State Parkway. Plenty of stores nearby, a friendly synagogue headed by a well-known rabbi, a newly renovated mikvah, several kosher restaurants, a bakery, and seven Orthodox synagogues.
Elie and Rebecca Mischel. Photos by Dan Santacruz
That’s how Cong. Shomrei Torah, Fair Lawn’s largest Orthodox synagogue, wants to market the community to young families.
The initiative comes from the synagogue’s Torah Enrichment Center, in partnership with Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), which aims to strengthen Jewish communities throughout the country.
Jack Nussbaum, president of the TEC, said that the purpose of the initiative is to ensure the growth of the town’s Orthodox community.
"It’s a two-pronged job: Bring in new people and create energy in the community with the current members," he said.
Although the community isn’t in decline, it has stagnated, he added.
According to a backgrounder published by the TEC, "Fair Lawn is a great antidote to other overcrowded and overpriced neighborhoods in Bergen County" like Teaneck and Bergenfield, said Nussbaum.
In February, committee members started interviewing couples the CJF referred to them and so far three, all in their mid- to late ‘0s, have moved to Fair Lawn. Two came from Teaneck and one from Washington Heights.
Three more are expected to move in December.
The couples’ commitment to the program is for two years, the duration of a monthly stipend for their personal expenses. Both Nussbaum and Willie Hochman, a TEC trustee, declined to state the amount.
Gabriella and Dov Friedman.
When Elie Mischel and his wife, Rebecca, were planning to move out of the Terrace Circle apartments in Teaneck, where they lived for three years, Elie Mischel asked friends who work at the CJF what community in New Jersey they would recommend. They told him about the Shomrei Torah project.
The Mischels, parents of a 16month-old daughter, moved to the Fair Lawn Commons apartments on Fair Lawn Avenue at the end of August after an interview in the house of one of the committee members.
In the interview the couple were asked if they would mesh into the community and how they would contribute to it.
"Fair Lawn is diverse and there are Jews of every kind," Mischel said. "Even in shul [Shomrei Torah] there are all kinds of Orthodox Jews Russians, Israelis, right-wing, left-wing."
He has only praise for the community.
"We like it very much and we recommend it to other couples. No place is for everyone, but Fair Lawn has all the pluses," he said. "Like [the television show] ‘Cheers,’ everybody knows your name."
An attorney, Mischel said that the commute to his job in Florham Park is very convenient. The same is true for his wife, who is studying for her doctorate at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Yeshiva University.
Dovid and Gabriella Friedman, who lived in Teaneck’s Walraven apartments for two years, heard about the project from the Mischels. Interviewed by committee members, they moved to the Fair Lawn Commons in October.
"Fair Lawn is the right place for us," said Dovid Friedman, an attorney working in New York City. "What we like best is that everybody is friendly and there is a sense of unity in the community that is hard to find anywhere else."
Friedman also praised the convenience of the commute. "The commute is faster than from Teaneck because you can take the train" instead of traveling by bus, he said.
Gabriella Friedman is a nurse in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson. The Friedmans have a ‘-year-old daughter.
Asked how the community could be improved, Dovid Friedman replied: "We need more people to move in and try to build the community. We’d like to get a younger crowd."
Lauren and Michael Nadata, who have a 14-month-old daughter, moved from Washington Heights to Fair Lawn Commons in October. They were looking for a place that was "slightly less transient and anonymous than the Heights to live in" and where they could be more involved in the community, said Michael Nadata.
Lauren Nadata asked at the CJF if anyone knew of a community that was looking for young couples. Fair Lawn was recommended.
"We decided to go survey the place and spent a couple of Shabbasim there," said Michael Nadata, a professional musician and rabbinical student at Yeshiva University pursuing a master’s degree in mental health at City College of New York. Lauren Nadata works at a commercial insurance company in Roseland.
"We are thrilled to be living here," said Michael Nadata, "and love the community, the Yudins [Shomrei Torah’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Benjamin Yudin and his wife, Shevi] and the apartments, a beautiful place to live."
He called the community "close-knit, where people really know your name and who you are, the way a Jewish community should be."
As part of the commitment to the TEC, each family will work on social and educational programs and events for adults and youngsters that best suit their skills. All the activities are at Shomrei Torah.
Other responsibilities include recruiting other couples, hosting potential residents, and coordinating evening shiurim.
Dovid Friedman, for example, teaches a class on Sefer Nezikin, one of the orders of the Mishnah, comparing American and Jewish law on damages and civil penalties, as well as other aspects of Jewish law.
Elie Mischel leads a class in the study of "Mavo HaTalmud," an introduction to the Talmud by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes, and Michael Nadata teaches one about "Be’er Hagola," a book by Rabbi Yehuda Loew about controversial talmudic statements.
The three classes are on Thursday night.
Also, the Mischels helped coordinate an event of chasidic music with Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Herschel Reichman, Light up the Night!, planned for Saturday, Dec. 1 at 8:30 p.m.
Nussbaum and Yudin raise money for the stipends throughout the year, paying personal visits to potential donors.
"We have had an overwhelming response [to the appeals]," said Nussbaum. "There is no specific amount to be raised, but the more, the better."
According to Hochman, "Our budget includes paying the monthly stipend for three couples, funding their hospitality expenses and programming events that the TEC sponsors, like going to the Teaneck TABC [Torah Academy of Bergen County] Shabbat minyan to promote the initiative, and the Rabbi Reichman event."
The couples have already invited other couples to spend Shabbat in Fair Lawn so they get to see what the town has to offer, said Nussbaum.
And part of that is the reputation for warmth the community has, in which the Yudins set the tone for chesed and Torah learning, values that are important for couples, he added.
One measure of success will be seeing more young couples move into Fair Lawn, said Hochman.
"In addition to the three TEC couples, by year’s end three additional ones will have moved into Fair Lawn", he added.
"Any additional couples are not part of TEC, [but] should our fund-raising efforts exceed our expectations and we see the need to bring in a fourth couple, we will entertain that in ‘008."
Nussbaum and Hochman moved to Fair Lawn 33 and ‘4 years from Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. Nussbaum came because he heard about "a young, energetic rabbi [Yudin]" and because it was a short commute to his business. Hochman, who works in financial information sales, moved because he "knew people here" and for the relatively easy train commute.
For more information about TEC, write firstname.lastname@example.org
or email@example.com or visit www.shomrei-torah.org