[Editor’s note: This is the first in Jlife’s series profiling synagogues throughout the heart of New Jersey.]
To anyone even mildly interested in attending a synagogue service, whether once a year, once a week, or once a day, the heart of New Jersey offers a virtual smorgasbord of options. Listing the more than 60 synagogues in the area, with addresses, contact information, and a brief description, would require its own publication.*
Suffice to say, whatever you are looking for—to mangle a song from “West Side Story”—there’s a shul for you. What follows is a very basic listing of the varieties available.
As one might expect, there are literally dozens of Conservative, Orthodox, Reform, and Reconstructionist congregations. And lots of variety within each.
There are Conservative synagogues in which services are completely egalitarian, while some offer separate seating for men and women. One shul was Conservative and recently became Orthodox. Some Orthodox shuls follow Ashkenazi traditions, others Sephardic. Some Reform congregations worship in brick and mortar spaces, others do not.
Included among the more traditional shuls, you can choose Modern Orthodox, Torah Links, or any of the impressive number that meet in homes. And then there are the Chabads. Some meet in large edifices, some utilize public spaces, and still others are in areas in which the rabbi and rebbetzin are still building congregations.
Would you prefer to worship with Russian speakers? We’ve got that.
What about being part of one very active in a community garden and other social welfare activities? No problem.
Looking for one passionate about Israel? Take your pick.
Welcoming diversity? Yes.
Physically accessible? Check.
Seeking adult Jewish Education? Almost all offer classes, and most are open to anyone–members and those who are not.
Want to study Kabbalah with a rabbi who is a Jew by Choice? No problem.
Intrigued by the idea of services at the beach during the summer? You have a variety to choose from. Or don’t choose. Attend them all.
Are you a history buff? Does worshiping in a synagogue celebrating its 100th anniversary pique your interest? You can.
In fact, a bunch have been around for more than a century. A few are approaching 150 years. And now would be a great time to check them out.
Actually, the time between now and Memorial Day is the perfect time to “shul shop.” You can take your time, get a sense of the place, see if you fit in easily, and if not, try another.
Synagogues have personalities, just like people. Find the place that welcomes you, that shares your values, where you can worship as you like, and you will have found the shul for you. Just like in the song.
*A very basic listing, including name, address and phone number can be found among the Community Resources on the Federation website, JewishHeartNJ.org.
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.