Increasing the joy

Increasing the joy

Seven local Reform synagogues plan joint Purim programming

Rabbi Noah Fabricant of Oradell’s Congregation Kol Dorot.
Rabbi Noah Fabricant of Oradell’s Congregation Kol Dorot.

Bergen County’s seven Reform congregations are cooperating to put on a weekend of pre-Purim celebrations dubbed “The Whole Megillah: Purim Across Bergen.”

The activities include a joint Friday night service at Teaneck’s Temple Emeth, a joint Shabbat morning Torah study and service at Tenafly’s Temple Sinai, a Zoom lecture from Rabbi Sally Priesand, who is marking the 50th anniversary of her ordination, when she became the first woman ordained by a rabbinical seminary, at a presentation at the Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, carnivals for kids at Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, and a teen social event at Kol Dorot in Oradell.

The combined celebration is the first direct outcome of a gathering of the congregations’ presidents in December at the Paramus offices of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, arranged by Joshua Keyak of the federation’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative.

“We all know that in the next five or 10 years, things are going to look different than they do now,” Steve Berman of Bergenfield, Avodat Shalom’s president, said. “The environment has changed. It can’t support as many temples as there are now. We need to start doing some sort of collaboration.”

After their first meeting, the shul presidents brought their rabbis into the conversation.

Mr. Berman said he was a little surprised there was no resistance to the idea of working together. “Everyone thought it was a good idea immediately,” he said. “It was just a matter of starting the ball rolling.”

Down the road, the collaboration may mean running joint schools or merging congregations, he continued — but a joint Purim celebration was a good place to start.

“All of us recognize the need and desire to do more things together,” Rabbi Noah Fabricant of Kol Dorot said.

“For many years, the instinct of synagogues has been to go it alone and be protective of our people and our programs. Thankfully those barriers are decreasing and we’re more and more enthusiastic to work together and celebrate together.

“In the spirit of marbin b’simcha” — the Mishna’s injunction to increase joy in the month when Purim occurs — “this is a wonderful opportunity to increase all of our joy in Purim by increasing our numbers and our critical mass to do programming together.”

Steve Berman, president of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge.

This was “the first time in anyone’s recollection that all of the Reform synagogues in the county did something together,” Rabbi Fabricant added.

One factor that makes this sort of cooperation easier is that now in the era of Zoom, hearing a speaker sponsored by Barnert Temple does not require driving to Franklin Lakes. Rabbi Fabricant said that he estimates that for every two people who attend his Friday night services in person, there is probably one participating remotely.

“It’s a real significant part of the community,” he said. “We’re definitely aware of them and keeping them feeling included.”

He said that while in-person numbers have not rebounded to their pre-pandemic level of two years ago, he thinks his congregation has grown.

“The ability to take part virtually has offered a connection for people who hadn’t regularly participated, whether in Shabbat services or weekly Torah study,” he said. “A lot of those new people have continued.”

But cooperation also provides an opportunity for teens from different synagogues to meet in person, “which is always fun.” He is helping organize the scheduled teen social event, as it’s called on the calendar, at his synagogue on Sunday. It will be “like a Purim carnival but aged up for the teens,” he said. “We want to bring some of the same fun of a carnival, making cotton candy and playing carnival games, but doing it with teens.”

While this weekend’s events are being held jointly, each congregation will have its own celebration on the night of Purim with their own reading of the Megillah.

At Kol Dorot, that will involve a festive dinner, and the congregation’s “first-ever latke-hamantaschen debate,” in which Rabbi Fabricant will argue for the primacy of Chanukah’s potato pancakes over the Purim pastry.

He said that in these troubling times, Purim is a reminder that a “a little bit of lightness and fun and frivolity is never out of place. This is one of the gifts our Jewish calendar gives us: a timeline cleanser to activate that part of ourselves, to nurture that sense of fun and hopefulness.”

For Mr. Berman’s part, he looks forward to more joint events.

“I’m hoping this grows into a continuous thing,” he said. “Whatever raises the boats for the Jews of Bergen County is good for all of us.”

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