Teaneck Jewish Center downsizes its rabbi

Teaneck Jewish Center downsizes its rabbi

Teaneck’s oldest synagogue will no longer employ a rabbi. It says it cannot afford one.

Next Shabbat, the first following Simchat Torah, will be Rabbi Lawrence Zierler’s last at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, which was founded in 1933.

“It has been a good eight years, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve the Center membership and increase its profile in the community with an array of exciting and cutting-edge programs,” Rabbi Zierler said.

“Unfortunately,” said Isaac Student, the congregation’s president, “the Center cannot afford a rabbi at this present time, so we both agreed it would be best if he would step down.

“With this change, we have enough of an income that we can meet all of our expenses until June,” the end of the synagogue’s fiscal year.

At its core, the synagogue’s problem is an aging membership. As Teaneck’s Orthodox population grew in recent decades, the Jewish Center remained without a mechitza separating men and women, which had become the sine qua non of Orthodox congregations. But the congregation also resisted the trend toward egalitarian worship; its long-time spiritual leader, Rabbi David Feldman, was a leader of the Union for Traditional Judaism, which formed in the 1980s to protest the Conservative movement’s decision to ordain women. When Rabbi Feldman took the pulpit in 1982, the congregation was one of the largest in the country.

When Rabbi Zierler came to the synagogue in 2006, it was with the understanding that he would guide the synagogue toward Orthodoxy. Three years ago, after installing a mechitza, the Jewish Center affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

None of this was enough to create a membership renaissance, however, or to persuade enough families to abandon existing Orthodox congregations, the nearest of which is only half a mile away.

Services will continue at the congregation.

“We are going to have some people leading Shabbes services,” Mr. Student said. “We have a daily minyan.”

The Teaneck Jewish Center’s founders built the shul with the vision of the synagogue at the core of a community center, complete with a swimming pool and gymnasium. Now, however, those facilities mostly are rented out. Educational institutions, including a preschool and the Heichal Hatorah yeshiva high school, use its classroom space. These tenants enable the congregation to maintain its building, which is “expensive to maintain,” Mr. Student said.

“The building is serving its purpose, which is to serve the Jewish community,” he continued. “We want to make sure it continues doing that as long as possible.”

To that end, the congregation is “now talking to several Jewish groups, to arrange some sort of partnership agreement for the future. We’ve maintained the building for 80 years, serving the Teaneck Jewish community, and we’re hoping to maintain it for 80 years to come.”

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