FAIR LAWN To members of 53-year-old Cong. B’nai Israel, Sunday’s ceremony officially merging the Fair Lawn synagogue with another Conservative synagogue, the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, was bittersweet.
As CBI president Ken Spokony presented five Torah scrolls and a "deed agreement" to Leonard Kaufmann, president of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation Etz Chaim, members of the now-closed shul echoed the sentiments of vice-president Phil Steinberg, who addressed the congregation the previous day at the synagogue’s final Shabbat service in its sanctuary.
Cong. B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Aron Heller leads the procession of five Torah scrolls to the Fair Lawn Jewish Center. Photos by KEN HILFMAN
"I love this room," he had said, "for the warmth that we felt here, for the joyous events we celebrated, as well as the sorrows we shared with our B’nai Israel family."
Kaufmann, speaking to a crowd that filled the Jewish Center’s entire sanctuary, said, "We are happy to welcome B’nai Israel congregants here. In the future, we will be known as "The Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation Etz Chaim B’nai Israel. We are all Jews."
Rabbi David B. Saltzman, the Jewish Center’s religious leader, "officiated" at what the synagogues called a "marriage" of the two institutions. The five Torah scrolls of B’nai Israel were placed in the Aron Kodesh on a shelf above the Torah scrolls belonging to the Center. The scrolls had "met" at the doors of the sanctuary and were carried up and down the aisles, accompanied by joyous singing and dancing.
"Yesterday," Kaufmann told the audience, "the Ark was only half full. Today, it is full. Tomorrow, it will be full of hope for the future."
B’nai Israel’s last day began with the distribution of Torahs as well as breastplates, crowns, and other ornaments to those marching in the procession to the Fair Lawn Jewish Center. According to the town’s police escort, the Torah procession was followed by a line of 300 cars. For part of the way, the Torahs, with their escorts, rode in three pickup trucks. Once at the Center, the procession marched around the building, with onlookers providing musical accompaniment.
Ken Spokony, left, president, Cong. B’nai Israel, hands the agreement to merge the synagogue’s assets with the Fair Lawn Jewish Center to Leonard Kaufmann, its president. The Center’s Rabbi David B. Saltzman "officiated" at the "marriage" ceremony.
Kaufmann praised Spokony’s handling of the merger process and said "the procedure he developed for B’nai Israel is a model for mergers for any synagogue in the world." The merger agreement includes the transfer to the Jewish Center of B’nai Israel’s stained glass windows; memorial, art, and needlework installations; as well as other artifacts. Also included are the synagogue building and the rabbi’s residence, which become the property of the merged congregation. Their disposition will be decided upon at a later date.
The Fair Lawn Jewish Center’s Rabbi Simon Glustrom and Congregation B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Stanley Bramnick, emeriti of their respective congregations, were recognized by Kaufmann at the ceremony, which was organized by Holly Levy, vice-president of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center. Fair Lawn Mayor Martin Etler and local Assemblyman Bob Gordon made presentations, applauding the merger and offering hopes for its success. Cantor Eric Wasser, accompanied by about 100 children on the bimah, led the audience in reciting the "Shehecheyanu."
The first joint Shabbat service of the new congregation takes place Dec. 16. For further information, call the synagogue office at (’01) 796-5040.