A working group formulated to help revitalize Jewish life in Hudson County unveiled three initiatives to reach out to the unaffiliated at a meeting last Thursday at the Bayonne Jewish Community Center. At least 70 people, including lay and professional leaders of the dozen synagogues throughout the county, as well as leadership from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and a representative from United Jewish Communities in New York, were there for a PowerPoint presentation developed by the self-selected committee of about a dozen area residents, most of them new to Hudson County.
Reflecting the diversity of local Jewry, members of the working group are affiliated with synagogues on all points of the denominational spectrum and span generations, from young newlyweds to baby boomers.
Last week’s gathering was the second time the Hudson Jewish Community Forum has met. It was launched earlier this year by community activist Adam Weiss, an executive recruiter who lives in Jersey City. The group has been operating thus far only with donations from the participants, who say they care passionately about the survival of Jewish community and the wealth of communal assets, for instance, the many historic synagogues. "We looked around and said, ‘Somebody has to do something,’" said Weiss.
Anchoring their new plans is a Website, www.HudsonJewish.org, with an eye-catching logo that substitutes three Hebrew letter "shins" for the triple "w"s in the url. "I think the logo is particularly clever," noted Weiss who was part of the committee that conceived it.
Newcomers to Hudson County seeking a connection to Jewish life will find a listing of community events, another of the forum’s initiatives. The community calendar will also be distributed at the synagogues during the High Holy Days when attendance is expected to be at peak levels. But to access the calendar online, said Weiss, site visitors will need to register. "That way, we can find out who they are and communicate with them directly," he said.
Several events, open to the community, are already posted for the coming year, Weiss said, including a fall melave malke, a post-Havdalah party, sponsored by Mesivta Sanz, a Union City yeshiva; a Super Bowl party at the Bayonne JCC; the 100th anniversary gala of Cong. Mount Sinai in Jersey City Heights, coinciding with Lag B’Omer in May ‘008; and a date for a speaker at United Synagogue of Hoboken, part of the congregation’s annual speaker series.
In addition to providing information to prospective members, such advance planning, said Weiss, enables the local Jewish institutions to avoid scheduling conflicts, thus promoting communal unity. "We want the local Jews to get to know one another," he said.
The Website also contains a map pinpointing the locations of each synagogue. Clicking on any one brings up addresses and contact information.
What the map doesn’t indicate are the synagogues’ denominational affiliations, another tactic to demonstrate the unity of the Jewish community, Weiss explained. "People can find out by calling the synagogues themselves what denominations they are. It is not our brief to draw those distinctions."
This cross-denominational collaboration is something that had not occurred previously, according to those with a long memory of Jewish community in Hudson County. "It’s very much something new, and something that needed to happen," Weiss said.
The third initiative is an advertising campaign, designed to get people through the door of a synagogue for the High Holy Days. Each synagogue is contributing toward the cost of advertising, which will take the form of print ads in the Hudson County community weeklies and placards that will blanket the Path and light-rail trains, directing people to the Website, where they’ll find the map.
With so many Hudson County renters who are familiar only with the routes from their apartments to mass transit that takes them to their jobs in Manhattan, the hope is that when they are ready to buy townhouses, condos, or houses, they will consider moving near a synagogue.
For example, Weiss noted, "Many people are unaware of the Jewish neighborhood around the Bayonne JCC. Within a five-block radius, there are three synagogues, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, all near one of the loveliest parks in New Jersey."
The media plan also calls for ads in Anglo-Jewish papers, including the Standard, that circulate in adjacent counties, Bergen and Passaic to the north and Essex to the west. "Our message will then reach parents of the ‘0- and 30-somethings in Hudson County," said Weiss, noting that parents are concerned about their children making Jewish social connections.
The Website and stories that have appeared in the Standard have already sparked phone calls from residents of Bergen, Essex, and Passaic counties. "We’re generating buzz," said Weiss.
He added that the reaction to the initiatives presented at last week’s meeting was positive and presaged increased financial support. That could signify an influx in Jewish resources to the area that would further fuel communal growth. "We’ve already gotten inquiries from people wanting to advertise on the Website," said Weiss, noting interest from sellers of kosher food and restaurants. Individuals have also ponied up, with many writing checks or making pledges at the meeting, he said.
Looking forward, synagogue leaders were scheduled to meet again last night to confront some of the tougher challenges they face in common, for instance, setting in place rational dues policies, tackling synagogue finances, and strategizing on long-term issues, such as the desirability and feasibility of establishing a day school or day camp and attracting amenities such as a kosher butcher to the area. They also planned to consider whether to affiliate as a group with one of the area federations.
Weiss has set up an exploratory meeting within the next few weeks with Howard Charish, executive director of UJA-NNJ, part of whose cachement area includes the northern reaches of Hudson County. The two UJA-NNJ executives at last week’s meeting, Miriam Allenson, the associate director of communications, and Jonah Halper, young leadership director, said they came away energized and impressed by the organizational muscle of the young leadership in Hudson County. Reached by the Standard, Charish said it was premature to determine what support or services UJA-NNJ would be prepared to deliver to the Hudson County community. UJA-NNJ, he said, has a long history of providing support to a social service agency for senior adults in the county. In the meantime, said Charish, "We’re impressed with the drive to create community and make a difference to enrich Jewish life in that area."