The way Dr. Nathan Fox remembers it, Kesher: The Community Synagogue of Tenafly and Englewood was born when a group of eight families, most of them living on the West Side of Manhattan decided to create a new community.
The group first met in the spring of 2000, just before the turn of the new millennium. They decided to start their search for the right neighborhood for the community on the East Hill, around where Tenafly meets Englewood. The Orthodox synagogue was incorporated on September 16, 2000. The congregation met in members’ homes before buying a stately blue house in June 2003; and after repairs and renovations were complete, the group moved into the building on January 15, 2005.
As the renovations continued, more of the founding families moved to the area.
|Edwin Black has written 11 books.|
Where: Congregation Ahavath Torah, 240 Broad Ave., Englewood
The house became the congregation’s spiritual home. There were not always enough men for a minyan. Each week would bring its own challenges, but usually a relative would stay over or a young couple considering a move would put them over the pot.
Kesher is an Orthodox congregation, but it welcomes Jews of all backgrounds. According to congregants, its members genuinely love and care for each other. It includes people born into Orthodoxy, others who have discovered it, some who say them aren’t Orthodox, some who call themselves Conservative, and some who resist labeling themselves as being anything other than simply Jewish, according to Dr. Fox.
That is how the congregation is now up to 150 families and is expanding its synagogue building.
Mordecai Rosenberg, the shul’s president, joined Kesher about seven years ago. He said that the founders “were a group of like-minded individuals that just wanted to start a shul that was warm and inviting and that was engaged with both Jewish tradition and the community at large around it.”
Kesher has added one family per month on average over 13 years, Dr. Fox said.
The congregation is involved in social action work with Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation across the street.
“Temple Sinai hosts homeless families periodically,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “Our members volunteer to sleep there overnight or bring meals to the individuals staying there.” Shul members have been and continue to be actively involved in various local government positions, including on Englewood’s planning board, he added.
Eli Unger of Englewood, the president of Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, is a member of Kesher. So is Evan Sohn, also of Englewood; he is the president the Moriah School.
“We’re very diverse,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “Our members come from many different religious backgrounds, but no one judges anyone else’s personal decisions regarding religious practice.”
The average age of an adult Kesher member is somewhere in his or her early to mid 40s, Dr. Fox said, and the vast majority of the members are between 30 and 55. “It’s very young,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “On Shabbat, the shul is teeming with children. We want Kesher to be a cornerstone of our children’s Jewish upbringing, and hope that it will engender in them a deep love of God, Torah, prayer and their fellow man.”
Dr. Fox is Kesher’s immediate past president. He said that the founders had a clear vision of what they felt a modern Orthodox community should be, and they wanted to start theirs from the ground up. They wanted to create “a congregation focused on family values, social interaction and community involvement,” he said.
“It took a tremendous amount of commitment on their part, because that set the tone for what followed,” Dr. Fox said.
Estie Agus, who lives now in Israel, was one of those founding members. The first shul organizational meeting was in her Upper West Side apartment.
“The appeal we were looking for was an out-of-town, intimate, low-key, and friendly community. We wanted to start something with a common goal, a seriousness of purpose, committed to communal growth and connection,” Ms. Agus said.
Dr. Fox and his wife, Michal, were at the original Kesher meeting, but it took them about five years to move to northern Englewood, close to the shul. The Foxes, who have twin 14-year-olds, a 10-year-old, and a 7-year-old, became Kesher’s 70th family. “Kesher is open, inclusive and friendly,” Dr. Fox said. “We take tefillah seriously. Torah study is an important endeavor at a high level.” He said that people moved into the neighborhood to be able to be part of Kesher.
“People who came here were enthusiastic about the synagogue,” he said. “They really believed in it, and that really snowballed. Families who come to Kesher say this where I want to move, and this is where I want to be.”
Rabbi Akiva Block has been the kehilla’s spiritual leader since 2010. He and his wife, Debbie, have two children, Micah and Ezra. Rabbi Block describes Kesher as a place where everyone feels welcome. Echoing Mr. Rosenberg and Dr. Fox, he said, “You can be different and come from a different background, but still feel welcome.”
He added that there are always acts of kindness going on between members. “Everyone is there for everyone else,” he said.
Dr. Fox said that the “shul is a place where people get along. We’re geographically in a nice location, so we have people who walk quite a long distance because they like coming to us.”
Kesher includes prayers for the U.S. government and its soldiers as well as for the State of Israel and members of the Israeli Defense Forces. Kesher now holds its services at a local elementary school while the construction project, 19,000 square feet of sanctuary, office space, and classrooms is being constructed around the house. Construction began in the summer of 2013 and is expected to finish sometime in the beginning of 2015.
“The future of Kesher is bright and wonderful,” Dr. Fox said. “I can’t imagine us not continuing to grow.”
Or, as Mr. Rosenberg said, “Kesher is really a family – in who we are and what we do. It’s an absolute gift for my family to be part of this inspiring community.”
|Who: Edwin Black
When: Tuesday, March 25, at 8 p.m.
Where: Congregation Ahavath Torah, 240 Broad Ave., Englewood