Cong. B’nai Israel at 53, the second oldest Conservative congregation in Fair Lawn voted Tuesday night to merge with the Fair Lawn Jewish Center-Congregation Etz Chaim, the community’s oldest Conservative institution. The decision was announced by B’nai Israel president Ken Spokony following a sealed-ballot vote at a special meeting of the shul membership.
Synagogue leaders discussed the financial difficulties B’nai Israel has faced in recent years, noting that despite bank loans taken out on the equity of the rabbi’s residence, increased membership dues, rentals, and fund-raising efforts, the congregation continued to incur yearly deficits. In addition, they said, as a result of decreasing membership and the synagogue’s aging population, fewer students are enrolled in the shul’s religious school.
Several months ago, the congregation began to hold meetings with leaders of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center and Temple Beth Sholom, also in Fair Lawn, to discuss a possible merger. Both congregations are affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Faced with a dwindling membership the congregation has fewer than 150 members, including families and individuals B’nai Israel’s executive board, board of trustees, and members of the congregation agreed that, to maintain a high-quality religious, social, and educational experience for the future, it was necessary to take immediate action. According to synagogue spokesmen, in June official presentations were made to B’nai Israel’s membership by the Fair Lawn Jewish Center and Temple Beth Sholom, and invitations were extended by both synagogues to attend and participate in Shabbat services. Subsequently, discussions were held and materials were made available concerning the disposition of Torahs, memorial plaques, stained glass windows, dues, seating in the sanctuary, and positions on committees, as well as the placement of major artistic installations.
Cong. B’nai Israel will offer a full schedule of services, including High Holy Day services, under the direction of Rabbi Aron Heller, "at least until the end of December," according to Spokony, who will be honored Sunday evening as B’nai Israel’s "’006 Man of the Year."
More than 150 people are expected to attend what’s being called the "Final Gala Anniversary Dinner." Stanley Bramnick, B’nai Israel’s rabbi emeritus, will be the guest speaker.
Anne Meyers, a former sisterhood president whose husband, Stuart, is a former president of B’nai Israel commented at the conclusion of the merger meeting, "B’nai Israel has been a very big part of our lives. We’ve had tragedy that was shared with the congregation, and wonderful times, as well. It’s a sad day when we have to do this merger."
Phil Steinberg, vice president and co-chair of the ritual committee, said, "This was a very difficult process, but we had to do it. If the core congregation sticks together, we will have achieved our purpose, so that the identity and heritage of B’nai Israel will continue."
"It was a difficult and emotional process," Spokony agreed. "I hope the congregational family will come and pray together in new surroundings as we enter the doors of a new shul."
Leonard Kaufmann, president of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, was informed of the merger vote late Tuesday evening. Kaufmann said, "We look forward to a wonderful marriage with our new partners. It is really a wonderful day for the Fair Lawn community when two congregations can get together and continue very strong Jewish traditions in Fair Lawn."