I very much enjoyed your May 20 article on Hudson County’s Jewish community. I lived in Hoboken for several years and recently moved to Bergen County, in part to be closer to my son’s preschool and then yeshiva. I frequented services at many of the Orthodox shuls discussed in the article, including Cong. Mt. Sinai and Cong. Sons of Israel in Jersey City; I hope they thrive for years to come. One Shabbos, I hiked with Hoboken’s Rabbi Moshe Schapiro to Cong. Shaare Zedek in West New York, where a pupil was having his bar mitzvah. It was worth the walk to enjoy services in that gorgeous building.
However, you missed one of the most unexpected stories in Hudson County’s Jewish life in the past 10 years. Beginning with High Holiday services in 2001, the Chabad Jewish Center has held Orthodox services in Hoboken. In the past several years, there have been Shabbos services on a weekly basis. During my time in Hoboken, the Chabad Jewish Center was the center of Jewish life for me, my wife, and many others seeking to learn more and do more with their Jewish heritage. Rabbi Moshe and Shaindel Schapiro welcome Jews (of all levels of observance) not only to their services but to their home, where they see traditional Judaism beyond liturgy, expressed beautifully in family life. It must be bittersweet to see young people exploring their Jewish identities when they came to Hoboken later leave married and seeking Jewish education for their children in more established Orthodox communities. I can count many Hoboken friends in that category. (Who would guess that Hoboken would have a recent Orthodox diaspora?)
Even after moving, I have often come back to Hoboken for Chabad Jewish Center special events, like its always deliciously catered Purim party and the six-week classes taught from the Jewish Learning Institute curriculum. There is some inexplicable quality to Jewish life in Hoboken that makes every mitzvah a little more dramatic. There are hundreds of Orthodox families where I now live, but I have never seen a New Jersey governor or U.S. senator take the opportunity to draw a large crowd by lighting a candle on Chanukah. With Chabad Jewish Center’s Chanukah celebration, in front of City Hall, the relatively small but enthusiastic crowd managed to draw a governor, state senator, or U.S. Senator year after year.
There seems to be a common message among the Jewish leaders and institutions cited in your article. Hudson County’s Jewish life may dwindle, but incredible cultural and spiritual wealth is kept alive by the dedication of a small number of individuals fanning the sparks into flames. If it were left up to demographics alone, we wouldn’t have survived as a people. It will be interesting to see the fruition of these new beginnings in another 10 years.