History: Congregation Torat El is an egalitarian Conservative synagogue located at 301 Monmouth Road in Oakhurst. It was established in 2009 as a result of the unification of Temple Beth Torah and Temple Beth El (which had merged with Congregation B’nai Sholom in 2001), all of which had their own rich histories in the area. In 2010, Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun was named the Rabbi of the newly unified congregation, and he is about to celebrate his 13th year as its spiritual leader.
What are your synagogue’s most popular programs and/or services?
Our diverse congregation enjoys a variety of programs, such as our twice-a-summer Shabbat at the Beach; Hanukkah Party; Purim Extravaganza; engaging Adult Education Classes, both in person and on Zoom, including a weekly Lunch and Learn class with Rabbi Schonbrun; “Meet the Author” programs featuring prominent writers; fundraising and friendraising events sponsored by our robust Sisterhood, Men’s Club and Hazak groups; as well as social events such as the Comedy Night, scheduled for March 4.
What programs and/or services do you think capture the synagogue’s underlying philosophy?
Our commitment to creating meaningful relationships across the generations, and connect our members to the deep wisdom and relevance of our spiritual heritage for the 21st century is reflected in all of our activities. From our Early Learning Center for children 8 weeks to 3 years old, to our social and educational programming for our youth, adults and seniors, to our Shabbat and twice-daily weekday services, we aim to make everyone feel welcome and richer for their experience with our community. We also seek to empower our members to live active and engaged Jewish lives. Our Torah Reading Program, originally started to encourage students to further develop their synagogue skills and fulfill their obligation as B’nei Mitzvah by being of service to the congregation, is now a multi-generation program, including individuals ranging in age from 13 to 90. To date, there are over 75 Master Torah Readers, each of whom has read Torah at least 24 times. Our members take the obligation to live lives of chesed (caring) seriously through the work of our Chesed Committee, whose members deliver meals to congregants returning home from the hospital, shiva platters to the bereaved, and baby gifts to new parents.
What is the most unique aspect of your synagogue?
The most unique aspect of our synagogue is our Sustaining Commitment program. Instead of a fee for service (dues) model, we have created a financial partnership. Every member is invited and expected to make a financial commitment (with a minimum established by the synagogue), based not only on the needs of sustaining our synagogue, but our personal connection and engagement within our community.
Have you implemented any changes based on the Covid experience?
We have returned to in-person services and programming but continue to offer all services and many programs via Zoom and Livestream. During COVID we began partnering with synagogues around the country to offer innovative Zoom programs featuring speakers from around the world, something that continues today.
Are there any other challenges you’ve overcome that you’d like to share, so others can learn from your experience?
Security is a challenge for everyone. Keeping our congregants, staff and visitors safe is an on-going effort. We have enhanced our security protocols, and take steps to have continuous training for our members to heighten awareness and preparedness in case of emergency.
What would you say to encourage someone to join your synagogue?
We pride ourselves on being a warm and welcoming synagogue for Jews of all ages, in all stages of life, and have the added bonus of being just minutes from the beautiful beaches of the Jersey Shore. For people who identify as religious, traditional or secular, are intermarried, Jews by choice, Jews of color, who identify with the LGBTQ+ community, we hope you will find a spiritual home and connection here at Congregation Torat El.
For more information about the synagogue, go to https://www.torat-el.org or call (732)531-4410.
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.