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New voices in the community

Barry L. Schwartz: A new direction for Leonia shul

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Like Bergenfield’s new rabbi, Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz – new rabbi of Cong. Adas Emuno in Leonia – will maintain a second job, in this case serving as CEO of the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia.

Before entering the world of publishing, the rabbi spent 11 years as religious leader of Cong. M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill. In addition to his rabbinic work, he has been active in Jewish environmental efforts, serving on the board of several nonprofit social justice organizations, and has written both books and scholarly articles.

Ordained by Hebrew Union College in 1985, Schwartz received an honorary divinity degree after 25 years in the pulpit.

Schwartz said he is “excited to be living in Leonia,” from which he commutes once a week to Philadelphia.

The Leonia shul, he noted, was headed by a cantor for the past seven years.

“The congregation is very happy now to go with a new model – a part-time rabbi and a student cantor from HUC. It now has the opportunity to have both each week. Everyone is enjoying it.”

Schwartz noted, too, that the town’s Conservative shul, Sons of Israel, was very generous to its sister congregation in Leonia when it closed its doors and became a part of Cong. Gesher Shalom/Jewish Community Center of Fort Lee.

“They donated their ark doors to our synagogue and also gave us a bequest. They were heartfelt in their intentions and it was graciously received by us. They wanted to ensure a Jewish presence in Leonia.”

Schwartz called Adas Amuno, founded in 1871, “a small but old congregation, one of the oldest in New Jersey.”

Members include about 100 families, with “a complete mix of ages.” The synagogue has a religious school and its 75 children range from kindergarten to confirmation.

“We’re for people who are seeking a small, haimish, informal, and warm atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a very down-to-earth community – do-it-yourself – where the laypeople do almost everything. They’re a very hard-working group.”

As a part-time rabbi, Schwartz will lead all Shabbat and holiday services, offer a new Tot Shabbat program once a month, and lead services and celebrations in the religious school. He will also conduct regular Torah study sessions every Shabbat morning.

The shul’s cantor, he said, will lead Shabbat evening services, train b’nai mitzvah students, and teach in the religious school.

“The shul is very proud of its Reform heritage, which means it embraces both tradition and change,” he said. “It has evolved with the times and is proud of its legacy.”

Schwartz acknowledged that “as a small synagogue with limited resources and in the older community of Leonia, we have some financial and demographic challenges.” Still he said, “Our congregation has endured for a remarkably long time and has the will” to continue.

He said that just this past year, the synagogue began cooperating with two other Reform congregations, one in Teaneck and one in Tenafly, to hold joint festival morning services.

He expects such efforts to continue.

Schwartz said the synagogue’s former leader, Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro, “was very forthcoming and it was a very smooth transition. The congregation has not had a rabbi for at least seven years,” he said. “There was a real thirst for studying and worshiping with a rabbi and a cantor.”

Schwartz’s wife, Deborah, is a hand rehabilitation specialist. He has three grown children.

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