Background: Highland Park Conservative Temple & Center was established to serve as an afternoon religious school in 1926, was incorporated and had its first spiritual leader and building in the 1930s, and became the Highland Park Conservative Temple in 1949.
South River’s Congregation Anshe Emeth was founded in 1916 and in 2006 voted to merge with the HPCT and the two synagogues became the Highland Park Conservative Temple–Congregation Anshe Emeth. A member of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, its spiritual leadership includes Rabbi Eliot Malomet and Hazzan Michael Weis. Serving as president is Barbara Parkoff. Temple membership is 330 families.
What are the most popular of your synagogue’s programs and services?
We are a pluralistic, active, “shul-going” congregation. Our Shabbat morning services, always followed by a Kiddush, has a base of more than 80 regulars. Monthly, we hold a “Milestone Shabbat with a special Kiddush,” co-sponsored by the many families celebrating a simcha (which might be a birthday, a graduation, an anniversary, etc.). Our Shabbat luncheons and Friday night dinners are a special favorite, recently re-started since Covid. Teen Shabbat Lunch-and-Learns have quickly become a teen favorite.
Education is one of our core values. Rabbi Malomet’s very popular Parasha Shorts, written comments about the parasha of the week which began during COVID, is available on Shabbat morning and through our website and supplement his weekly online parasha class, “Parasha Talk with the Three Rabbis,” and in-person Shabbat sermon. Rabbi is a highly acclaimed teacher and his classes his weekly parasha classes are recorded and available on the Temple’s YouTube channel, TheHPCTCAE.
Our Shabbat and Yom Tov morning Torah Time program led by Dr. Marlene Herman is designed for young children and has been one of our longest-running educational programs.
What programs and/or services do you think capture the synagogue’s underlying philosophy?
Another core value and one on which we pride ourselves is being a “caring community.” We have a very active “Chesed Outreach Committee.” The committee provides a meal not only to a family sitting shiva, but also to someone who may have been in the hospital, a family with a new baby, or just someone who would benefit from the comfort a meal provides. This meal often includes homemade soup, made by our Sisterhood. Friendly phone calls and “thinking-of-you cards” are sent to those who may be no longer be able to come to the Temple.
What is the most unique aspect of your synagogue?
We are an inclusive, warm and welcoming community. We have greeters each Shabbat who serve to welcome everyone coming through the doors. First time at the shul? Our greeters will introduce you and make you feel welcome. Our monthly “Name tag Shabbat” coincides with our Milestone Shabbat and includes not only members’ name tags but name tags also for nonmembers who are regulars. As noted in our Vision Statement: “We strive to ensure each person is seen and welcomed, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical and mental ability, family makeup, political affiliation or life stage. Each human being is made in the image of G-d.” https://www.hpct-cae.org/welcome/mission-vision/.
Have you implemented any changes based on the COVID experience?
We became one of the founding members of the Partners In Jewish Programs (PJP), a group of geographically diverse synagogues that joined together to offer programs via Zoom. Through PJP we’ve been able to bring to our members and nonmembers scholars and many Zoomed travel experiences that otherwise might not have been available.
Are there any other challenges you’ve overcome that you’d like to share, so others can learn from your experience?
A fire in 2006 fortunately happened in the early morning hours and did not cause any harm to people. However, a large portion of our building was destroyed. We didn’t miss a beat and it brought home to us that we really are a community. While we now have a beautiful building, it’s the community in the synagogue that is treasured.
The stained-glass windows in our main sanctuary were first dedicated in 1982 by individuals and families honoring or memorializing their loved ones. The windows were designed by Phillip Ratner of Washington, D.C. Some of his other works are in the permanent collection of the United States Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and in leading synagogues throughout the country.
World-renowned Greenland Studios fabricated the windows. After the sanctuary was destroyed by fire, the windows were restored by Heimer and Co., a family-run glass works firm in Clifton, New Jersey. The windows became the showpiece of our new sanctuary, which was dedicated on May 2, 2010.
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.