These Days of Awe are bittersweet for members of the traditional Conservative congregation at the Elmwood Park Jewish Center. After 50 years in the center, the members are bidding farewell to what they had worked so hard to build, and voted unanimously last week to merge with the traditional Conservative Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn. Ironically, Beth Sholom, which will take a formal vote on the merger Oct. 11, is also celebrating its 50th year.
The merger is not expected to be final until later this year or the beginning of next year, but members of the Jewish center will celebrate Sukkot with members of Temple Beth Sholom at their new home.
Earlier this month, the egalitarian Conservative congregation, B’nai Israel, one of the oldest congregations in Fair Lawn, voted to merge with the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. Etz Chaim.
Muriel Weinreb, the Elmwood Park Jewish Center president, has been with her congregation for 43 years. In a recent conversation with The Jewish Standard, she said, "We had 54 families, but the building was just too big for us to support, so we looked around for a synagogue that would welcome us, and found Beth Sholom. We, too, are a traditional Conservative group, and we think it’s a good match. We gave this matter a lot of thought and decided that relocating and joining together with another synagogue in the area would be our best course of action."
"We will finish the Days of Awe with Yom Kippur in our old home, then really start fresh at Beth Sholom with the celebration of Sukkot and Simchat Torah on a high and joyous note in Fair Lawn. The people there run a heimishe minyan," literally, a homey congregation. "We met with the sisterhood and everyone else, and we hope our joining together will turn into something wonderful for the whole community."
The center, at 100 Gilbert Ave., was recently put up for sale and is already under contract. Ninety percent of the Jewish center families will be making the move to Beth Sholom, she said, which is on the corner of Fair Lawn Avenue and Saddle River Road in Fair Lawn. Others who live outside Elmwood Park but still were associated with the center will be helped to make a transition to other congregations.
"All our plaques, all our Judaica, are going to go to Beth Sholom. We will be bringing the Torah scrolls, books, and all ritual objects with us," said Weinreb, who has been the center’s president for five years.
Stuart Leibman, the Beth Sholom president, told the Standard that "the board is all for it, and we are hoping and certain our membership will agree."
When asked about other recent closings and mergers of Conservative congregations in the state, Leibman said, "I guess the areas where those temples are located no longer have a growing Jewish population, so their membership has decreased and they decided to merge. There are not that many traditional Conservative congregations in the area, and we are very happy to offer the Elmwood Park people a place where we can grow together."
"There’s a very strong demand for people who want exactly what we offer," Leibman continued. "While many Conservative synagogues are doing new things and experimenting, we aren’t going to do that. Our young, middle-aged, and older families are looking for classical Conservatism, and don’t necessarily want to be identified with other denominations. We are able to provide the environment people are looking for because we made a conscious decision to stick to classical tradition."
Leibman continued, "As Muriel as said, we fit very well together, and after we take the vote, Beth Sholom will be very pleased to add the vibrant, active people we’ve met from Elmwood Park to the congregation. We think this will help both congregations survive financially."
Before making their decision, Elmwood Park members visited Temple Beth Sholom and a number of other Conservative congregations in the Bergen County area. They attended services and participated in sisterhood and other activities. Weinreb said, "We could tell right away that our congregational family would be comfortable at Beth Sholom."
"We could think of no nicer way to bring in our 50th year than with this great addition to our family and the fact that both congregations began in 1956 makes this bashert." said Liebman.
Rabbi Gary S. Listokin, rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom for more than 18 years, said, "While we must always stop and think about why one traditional Conservative congregation in this area of northern New Jersey must close its doors, we look forward to the day when the members of the Elmwood Park Jewish Center become members of Temple Beth Sholom."