Community Organizations Look Ahead to 2023
“We’re a growing synagogue,” according to Marlboro Jewish Center’s Executive Director, Dara Winston. “That is both a blessing and a challenge.” The Conservative congregation’s membership team will be staging events throughout the year, fresh off a week of free events over Hanukkah. A welcoming committee facilitates contacts between current and new members. “With all of the new security protocols, we are still trying to be open, warm and welcoming. We are going to be trying to engage people in ways that are relevant to their lives.”
That attitude is pervasive throughout the community. As public activities of all types continue to open up, synagogues, social service organizations and community centers are looking forward to expanding existing programs and reaching new participants; new programs will be inspired by current programs, but not depart from them. Most organizations do not seem to be looking for different directions; if anything, they are hoping for current programs to flower into burgeoning growth.
Rabbi Shmaya Galperin of Chabad of Holmdel is looking forward to continuity: ongoing classes, ongoing men’s programs, holiday events, such as a Purim celebration, a Passover seder and an annual children’s challah bake. “It’s mostly business as usual,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Rabbi Moshe Carlebach of Chabad of Greater Monmouth County. However, “we are looking forward to growth,” he added. There would be more holiday programming in 2023, and there should be a women’s mikvah operating by the summer. But, the main emphasis would be on education—the Hebrew School, and especially “meaningful and interesting classes for adults.”
Rabbi Yaakov Tesser of Young Israel of Aberdeen Congregation Bet Tefilah is thinking along those same lines. “We never stop anything that is positive—nothing gets in the way,” he said. His congregation is intending to expand its minyan and its kollel and perhaps to institute a daytime kollel. In addition, the synagogue has established an events committee to help bring in more young people and to grow its membership. “My goal is to offer this opportunity to as many like-minded people as there are,” he added.
An aging population is a perennial concern, not only to synagogues, but to social service organizations as well. According to Roni Salkin, Executive Director of Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, there are new seniors being added to the Kosher Meals on Wheels program monthly and Holocaust survivors are also requiring more services, as they age and their funds dwindle while their needs increase. Congregant Meals for Seniors is a program that was paused in 2020 because of the pandemic, but has now been relaunched with three separate locations to provide meals and social stimulation to isolated seniors. Outreach to seniors in the community is expected to increase, and more presentations on Medicare fraud, waste and abuse will be in-person rather than virtual. “We remain here to help people of all backgrounds, five days per week.”
“The experience of the pandemic and its ongoing effects have impacted all of us,” said Leslie Kornfield, Executive Director of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Monmouth. “The human loss, isolation, and disruption of our lives, lingers in our hearts and minds. JFCS of Monmouth has expanded its mental health, addiction recovery and food support services with professional and culturally sensitive support. For those who are still trying to cope and understand their experience with this once in a lifetime event we are ready to help.”
Ellen Botwin, Executive Director of the East Brunswick Jewish Center, is trying to get people back into the synagogue. At the beginning of the pandemic, she reached out to other synagogues in Middlesex County to form a consortium entitled Partners for Jewish Programming, whose reach extends from California to Massachusetts, to provide programming that individual synagogues could not afford and to maintain the connection with the community. This will continue to grow and will be supplemented with live programming. While a senior program conducted in partnership with Jewish Family Service and the Federation drew over one hundred participants, however, hybrid programs will continue to be necessary into the future. “There is a contingent who are completely comfortable with Zoom,” she said.
“Finding young families is our biggest challenge,” according to Lesley Lewkowicz, Administrator of Conservative Synagogue B’nai Tikvah of North Brunswick. To that end, the congregation is focusing much of their efforts on their religious school. Tuition has been made more affordable and there will be a free religious school trial in the spring. In the past, the religious school has drawn in families who were not previously members, and the hope is that, that will continue. Because the membership is diverse in age and geography, there will be lots of social interest programming as well as a continuation of the Rabbi’s series on “Everything you always wanted to know about [Judaism], but were afraid to ask.”
While gradual emergence from isolation and expansion of existing programs are the norm, some organizations—particularly those marking milestones—expect to forge ahead with ambitious new undertakings. Rabbi Laurence Malinger will be celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of his semichah as Temple Shalom in Aberdeen celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of its founding. In commemoration, a full weekend of activities and reunions is planned for June. In addition, Rabbi Malinger sees three issues to be addressed with expanded programming in 2023. Thus, maintaining a balance between in-person and virtual activities will mean opening up events to the community, as well as providing more digital and social media content. His congregation’s commitment to being an active member of the larger community will come to fruition in a number of ways, the highlight of which will be a February trip to Israel, with the local Lutheran minister as a co-leader. Finally, creating a meaningful interactive Jewish learning experience will involve a guest speaker series in the winter and spring.
Demographic changes are propelling Torah Links of Middlesex County in new directions. A large influx of Sephardic Israelis has spurred the creation of an Israeli Division and the importing of a Sephardic Israeli Rabbi, whom the organization hopes to bring on permanently. “Israelis have different needs that need to be served,” said Rabbi David Gross. “They are different culturally and enjoy different types of programming.” In addition to expanding the physical plant, Rabbi Gross is looking forward to growing the youth programming along with the separate Women’s Division.
Meanwhile, Marlboro Jewish Center is meeting the challenge posed by growth by looking ahead to a newer generation. With a growing preschool, Hebrew School and summer camp and a new miniature village set up for imaginative play, as well as a new Holocaust curriculum in the planning stages, the focus is clearly on the future.
Sue Kleinberg is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.