Hundreds of people sat on the long cascading steps of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple as religious leaders, political figures, and congregants paid tribute to a congregation that has grown and thrived in New Brunswick for 150 years.
On Oct. 11, the exact 150th anniversary of its founding, on a warm and cloudless fall day, they recited the Sheheheyanu prayer in unison thanking God for allowing them to reach that milestone day. They held a giant banner wishing their synagogue happy birthday as police halted traffic on Livingston Avenue so photographers could record the momentous occasion.
Included in the crowd were members who had called Anshe Emeth their synagogue for more than 90 years and others whose family ties stretched back generations.
They clapped and sang as the children’s, youth, and adult choirs performed under the direction of Cantor Anna West Ott, including an original closing number, “Decades of Faith,” which recounted the synagogue’s history in song.
“It is an amazing feeling to look out at all of you,” declared event chair and past synagogue president Susan Kohn of East Brunswick as she surveyed the crowd.
Senior Rabbi Bennett Miller, who has been at the congregation 36 years, said the large number of multigenerational families with deep roots in the synagogue “spoke to the strength and vitality of Anshe Emeth.”
The oldest synagogue in Middlesex County was begun by five families in a small storefront on Peace Street. It built its first synagogue in 1897 on Albany Street, and in 1930 moved to its current location. It went through a number of renovations over the years, including a $10 million expansion and renovation completed about three years ago.
Synagogue president Deborah Cohn told NJJN the synagogue had the distinction of being not only the fourth-oldest in the state, but the only one among that group to still be in the city of its founding.
“We never plan to leave New Brunswick,” she said.
Mayor Jim Cahill, declaring it to be Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple Day in New Brunswick, called attention to its legacy of social service in the city.
He also told congregants that when other institutions were leaving the city in the 1970s, “you chose to stay and be part of the rebirth of this city.”
Proclamations were also presented on behalf of Gov. Jon Corzine by Andrea Yonah, director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, and on behalf of the State Legislature by Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Dist. 17).
Lee Livingston, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and a former congregation president, said he could not think of any important endeavor in Middlesex County with which an Anshe Emeth congregant was not involved.
“I hope this will be a special place for the community for the next 150 years,” said Livingston. “Anshe Emeth is an example for the entire country about what a Jewish congregation and community should be.”
The congregation has established a reading program at neighboring Redshaw School, substituted for staff at the local hospitals on Christmas Day, worked the kitchens at Elijah’s Promise soup kitchen, and for three weeks each winter housed homeless men as part of the Interfaith Coalition for the Homeless.
Its Anshe Emeth Community Development Corporation offers both a free medical equipment loan service and legal advice to Middlesex County’s low-income families while its “Bebe Bell” lends car seats and baby furniture and donates formula, diapers, and other essentials to poor mothers.