Congregation B’nai Tikvah
Background: Congregation B’nai Tikvah, 1001 Finnegans Lane, North Brunswick, is a Conservative egalitarian synagogue with a membership of approximately 325 families.
Formed in 1981 from the merger of three synagogues, Congregation Sharri Shalom, Temple Beth Shalom and the North Brunswick Jewish Community Center, it is affiliated with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Rabbi Robert L. Wolkoff is a graduate of Wesleyan University and was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary. Cantor Bruce Rockman came to Congregation B’nai Tikvah as its full-time Cantor in July 2001. He assumed the additional role of director of Education in 2018. Synagogue president is Charlie Valan. The synagogue can be reached at 732-297-0696. Its website is https://bnaitikvah.org.
What are the most popular of your synagogue’s programs and services?
At Congregation B’nai Tikvah, we offer a wide array of programs and spiritual opportunities to make sure all our congregants can comfortably participate in activities that suit them. We have many programs that are popular, and so it is difficult to identify the most popular, as our programs are well attended. There are a few, however, that we would like to highlight that we believe strongly contribute to making B’nai Tikvah such a warm and inviting congregation.
Each month, we have our Chaverim program for senior citizens that is organized by our Social Action committee in sponsorship with Jewish Family Services. This program is held at lunchtime to make it easily accessible for some of our eldest members and non-members. During Chaverim, attendees socialize and enjoy a catered lunch while listening to entertainment. Everyone leaves with full bellies and full hearts after spending the afternoon among friends.
Another program that we’re particularly proud of is our monthly multi-generational Friday night Shabbat dinners that feature Tot Shabbat followed by Kabbalat Shabbat services. These dinners are well attended by congregants and non-congregants alike and connect attendees both socially and spiritually.
Watching our youngest members form their B’nai Tikvah friendships and make B’nai Tikvah their second home is such a fulfilling experience. Equally satisfying is watching our long-time congregants maintain the friendships they created years ago at B’nai Tikvah and create new ones.
Since 2019, B’nai Tikvah, in partnership with the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, has served as a hub for PJ Library. This has been an overwhelmingly successful and positive experience, not just for B’nai Tikvah, but for our local Jewish community as a whole.
Several times per year, B’nai Tikvah plans and hosts community-wide programs geared toward children up to 8 years old to engage them in the Jewish community and to teach them about Jewish holidays and customs. Typically, anywhere from 50-100 children attend these events with their families and it is such a joy for B’nai Tikvah to have been gifted the opportunity to meet these families.
What programs and/or services do you think capture the synagogue’s underlying philosophy?
All our programs and services are carefully crafted to promote the inclusive and accepting atmosphere that we strive so hard to create for our congregants and the Jewish community. Our philosophy at B’nai Tikvah is to make sure those who enter our doors feel as though they have a Jewish home here both spiritually and socially. We often receive feedback from visitors to our congregation about how impressed they are by their experience at B’nai Tikvah, whether it be a service or social event.
What is the most unique aspect of your synagogue?
A unique aspect about B’nai Tikvah is the degree to which our lay leaders and volunteers keep our congregation running through endless hard work and dedication. We are incredibly fortunate to have Lesley Lewkowicz, our synagogue administrator, along with our clergy, Rabbi Robert Wolkoff and Cantor Bruce Rockman, who are the heart and soul of B’nai Tikvah. We all work together to make B’nai Tikvah an inviting and inclusive congregation.
Have you implemented any changes based on the COVID experience?
B’nai Tikvah quickly transitioned to Zoom services, meetings and programs when the pandemic began. During the last few years, we have pivoted between virtual and in-person depending on the current rate of COVID cases. While we have returned to in-person services and events, we continue to offer services, minyanim and other programs on Zoom, as well. This allows us to stay connected with people who are either still hesitant to attend in person or who have come to know us during the pandemic over Zoom from an expansive geographic area.
Are there any other challenges you’ve overcome that you’d like to share, so others can learn from your experience?
Over the last few decades, the demographics in our local community have changed such that there are fewer Jews living in the area than there were previously. This change in demographics has made membership recruitment more difficult than it was in the past. However, as a congregation, we have learned various ways to attract Jewish families living in our community and engaging them. Most recently, we have been successful in attracting families with young children who are seeking a synagogue to call home.
What would you say to encourage someone to join your synagogue?
We encourage them to come experience B’nai Tikvah for themselves, because words cannot do justice to all that B’nai Tikvah offers. Come belong to Tikvah, because at Congregation B’nai Tikvah…You Can!
Joann Abraham began chronicling Jewish life as editor of Monmouth County’s Jewish newspaper, now defunct, and has written for national and international publications. She is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.