Shul relocating from Paterson decides to buy, not build

Shul relocating from Paterson decides to buy, not build

Perhaps the congregation’s Website says it best: "Temple Emanuel of North Jersey On The Move…"

The Conservative congregation expects to move to a permanent facility in Franklin Lakes by summer, following about a dozen years of nomadic existence between its original home on 33rd Street and Broadway in Paterson and temporary quarters in Oakland, as it sought to establish roots in northwest Bergen County.

Temple Emanuel will relocate to this building, the former Union Reform Church in Franklin Lakes.

Citing the escalating cost of construction, Temple Emanuel leaders recently abandoned plans for a new building on a 15-acre plot in Franklin Lakes the congregation bought for about $1 million, opting instead to enter into contract to buy the Union Reform Church on High Mountain Road there, said Seth Lipschitz, board president. The deal has been financed through a combination of donations, pledges, and proceeds from the $’.’5 million sale in February of the historic art deco Paterson building. The property was sold to a developer who plans to convert the space to medical offices. Services were last held in Paterson about a year ago, said Lipschitz.

Meanwhile, the site the congregation still owns on the corner of McCoy and Colonial Roads, Lipschitz said, "is on the market through word of mouth." Some interest has been expressed by residential real estate developers, but "it is hard to say," he conceded, "how much will be made" on its eventual sale, since a developer will first need to acquire permits before agreeing to a purchase, a process that can take years.

It was just such a process that derailed Temple Emanuel’s own intention to build there. First, there was a court fight with the municipality that the congregation won. Then, a series of changing regulations set by the state Department of Environmental Protection caused further delays. By the time the necessary permits were in hand, the original $8 million price tag for new construction had at least doubled. Amid the continuing frustration and uncertainty, the nearly ’00-family congregation lost about 50 households, creating additional budgetary strain.

The congregation is bringing its stained glass dome, pictured, and windows to its new home. Courtesy of Temple Emanuel

But, now the congregation is finally looking ahead with excitement and optimism, said Lipschitz, a technologist for an investment bank in New York City who is in the prime demographic targeted for the community’s future growth: young families. Lipschitz and his wife, Rebecca, have three children, the oldest of whom is 8.

To attract this population, the congregation is planning to enhance its youth programs. There are now approximately two dozen youngsters in its religious school, which has been meeting at the Gerrard Berman Solomon Schechter Day School in Oakland, and a youth group for elementary and middle school students. Rabbi Joshua Finkelstein, Temple Emanuel’s religious leader since ‘001, hopes that next year there will also be a chapter of United Synagogue Youth, the Conservative movement’s program for high school youth.

According to Finkelstein, there is ample evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that Jewish families are moving into northwest Bergen County in increasing numbers. He and Temple Emanuel’s lay leadership are counting on the fact that many of these want a worship experience not offered by the two other area synagogues, Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff and Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes. Barnert is affiliated with the Reform movement, and Beth Rishon, while not movement-affiliated, leans towards a less traditional prayer style, with an acoustic guitar-playing cantor on the bimah on Shabbat.

"Our Purim carnival this year was filled with young people. They’re just waiting for us to come," asserted Lipschitz. "There are mezuzahs on so many doors, [but] people are choosing to be unaffiliated if they’re uncomfortable with what’s already offered. There are people still looking for something traditional." When Lipschitz moved from Teaneck with his family about six years ago, he expected the new Temple Emanuel to be within walking distance of his home. He’s made many new friends and acquaintances in Franklin Lakes, he said, who, like him, want to belong to a Conservative shul.

Fortunately, the Union Reform Church doesn’t need much in the way of immediate work to transform it into a synagogue, Lipschitz noted. The sanctuary, which seats about 300, is in "immaculate condition," he said, with only a small crucifix to be removed from the front. The only other change Temple Emanuel plans to make quickly is the removal of the church steeple. Renovations to the rest of the facility, which includes a lower level that can accommodate a social hall and classrooms, will come later, based on an assessment by the recently formed building committee.

A part of the original Temple Emanuel that is sure to move with the congregation into its new home are the stained glass windows and dome from the building in Paterson. Most of the windows depict biblical narratives and rabbinic teachings. One, however, is an image of a more contemporary nature: that of Temple Emanuel in Paterson itself.

It was as if, Finkelstein speculated, the founders "knew the congregation’s location was only temporary," and they wanted its history to follow it. In a way, he continued, "any building outside of Israel is a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, because our people have always moved, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of desire. Communities transfer, and we’re just one example of that. The windows represent our foundation, and we will figure out how they figure into our new building and the history we’re going to create in the future."

Finkelstein is already imagining the community outgrowing this Franklin Lakes facility, which may necessitate another move down the road. "We’ll have to see what our options are [when the time comes]," he said.

In the meantime, he’s expecting those who walk through the doors of the new Temple Emanuel to find there "three things: a place where God may hear our voice; a place to hear God’s voice; and a place to hear each other’s voices." To do that, Finkelstein urged area residents to "come [to] pray, [to] study and [to] expand your horizons to discover the divine spark in each of us."

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