At a recent community meeting at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, Josh Lipowsky, communications specialist at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and a former associate editor of this newspaper, stood up and complained about the lack of singles activities in the township.
“They were discussing Upper West Side synagogues reinventing themselves to reach out to a singles population,” Lipowsky recalled. “I stood up and said, ‘There’s a singles community here in Teaneck and there is nothing for us. We all go to different synagogues because no one synagogue is making a home for us.'”
Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, religious leader of the Jewish Center, took Lipowsky’s point.
“I thought, ‘You’re absolutely right,'” Zierler recalled in a recent interview with The Jewish Standard. “It is the responsibility of every synagogue to remember the not-yet-married, not only the families. You can get so caught up in lifecycle events that you forget” about the younger population, he said.
|Who: West of the Hudson, a young Jewish professionals’ group based in Teaneck
What: Screening of Israeli sitcom episodes
When: Monday, June 20, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Jewish Center of Teaneck
Information: West of the Hudson on Facebook or e-mail email@example.com
To woo the not-yet-marrieds and address their concerns, Zierler has overseen the creation of a new social group in Teaneck.
Called “West of the Hudson,” the group – spearheaded by Lipowsky, 29, and Chaya Greenspan, 31, a pediatric occupational therapist – seeks to provide opportunities for young Jewish professionals to meet, mingle, and share experiences.
Its first event, a bonfire for L’ag B’omer, took place May 21 in the parking lot of the Jewish Center of Teaneck. About 40 young professionals turned out to celebrate the holiday by roasting kosher hotdogs and marshmallows supplied by Smokey Joe’s kosher barbecue restaurant on Cedar Lane.
“It was fun – there was socializing, there were hot dogs and marshmallows and pineapple at a little table by the fire, and another table with more food, sodas, and beer,” said Debra Segal, 22, a Teaneck resident who works in real estate in Manhattan. “I commend Josh for getting this together.”
For Zierler, the project is a way to serve the young, not-yet-married in the area and also to revitalize the Jewish Center, which will host the group.
“We are recreating ourselves,” he said. “A healthy synagogue has to express itself across the continuum of life, to look at the needs of not just … families with lifecycle events or people who are figuring out their lives beyond their working years, but to be a place the not-yet-married can develop those relationships.”
It’s also a great way to promote Teaneck, Zierler believes, which will in turn support the Jewish Center.
“We’d love to see people find their bashert [through the group], settle in Teaneck, and [retain] an affinity for the … Jewish Center because this is where it happened…. This is a community where you can hopefully come, meet your partner, and stay.”
That’s a perspective Segal says she can relate to.
“It’s really expensive to live in the city, and I have friends in Teaneck,” she said. “If there were more activities like this for people to meet and Teaneck were more of a scene like the Upper West Side … I would be more likely to stay here.”
While the group is geared toward young professionals in this area (hence its name), others are welcome and encouraged to come, according to Lipowsky.
“We are west of the Hudson River, but people from across the river are welcome also,” he said. “That we got 40-some people from all over Bergen County and even from New York at our first event shows there is a desire for this type of programming outside of the Upper West Side.”
Providing young people with opportunities to network is a Jewish religious imperative, Zierler believes.
“Social networking was spoken of by the rabbis – when you are rooted in a network, a community, and everyone knows someone, it’s social capital,” he said. “A friend has a friend who has a friend. Membership has its benefits when you exist in association.”
The group has a Facebook page, West of the Hudson, that boasts nearly 250 members and lists upcoming events.
For its next event, on Monday at the Jewish Center, members will screen “Srugim,” an Israeli sitcom about modern Orthodox singles in Jerusalem.
The sitcom’s storylines reflect the fact that “there are lots of similarities between Israelis and American singles,” according to Greenspan. She added that, while “all dietary and Shabbat rules are observed,” the group welcomes Jewish singles in their 20s and 30s regardless of affiliation. Some of the group’s members were drawn from a listserv Greenspan and a friend maintained to organize activities like Shabbat meals and Superbowl parties. Activities such as candle-making and beer-brewing are being discussed as possibilities for future events, she said.
Just don’t call it a singles group.
“We are not trying to create another singles scene or organization,” Greenspan. “We are not trying to marry anyone off, either. We are trying to support people’s personal development, whether they are married, divorced, or single. Friendships are just as important as romantic connection.”