Forty years after Rabbi Bennett Miller arrived straight out of rabbinical school and 155 years after Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple set down roots in New Brunswick, the synagogue is celebrating its relationship with the city and the spiritual and educational growth spurred by Miller.
At a Saturday evening, Dec. 6, gala, themed “Honoring our Past, Building our Future,” the synagogue will culminate more than a year of celebration around a fund-raising and values campaign, which includes the goal of “burning the mortgage” on its $10 million expansion and upgrade completed about eight years ago.
During the L’Hibanot initiative, $2 million was raised. A previous Legacy campaign had raised money to restore the sanctuary and construct a state-of-the-art media center, an amphitheater, a social hall, and a roof-top garden and make other improvements.
The campaign also focused on five other points: fostering personal growth for the entire membership, preserving its sacred space, cultivating visionary leadership, securing the temple’s fiscal well-being, and creating a culture of loving-kindness.
“We wanted to be responsible and reduce our debt” so the burden would not be passed down to the next generation, said Miller, who took Anshe Emeth from about 400 families to the current 600-family membership. “Just as previous generations have left us the gift of a wonderful building we have given the next generation a restored and renewed building to creatively fill just as we have.”
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 on Livingston Avenue. It has gone through various renovations over the years.
“When I came I saw something different at Anshe Emeth from what I saw at all other synagogues I visited,” said Miller. “There was a commitment to Jewish excellence and to the development of a community that took its Jewish learning seriously. I’ve found that to be the case in my 40 years here.”
Event chair Regie Roth called Miller “a visionary,” whose leadership “helped create a center for Jewish life in central New Jersey, in this building we call our home.”
Miller cited the many social action programs the synagogue has established with city schools and other institutions. For three weeks each winter, the synagogue offers housing for homeless men as part of the Interfaith Coalition for the Homeless. Its Anshe Emeth Community Development Corporation loans medical equipment and provides legal advice to Middlesex County’s low-income families. “Bebe Bell” lends car seats and baby furniture and donates essentials to poor mothers. “We are the largest distributor of diapers in the state of New Jersey and people tell us all the time we have saved their lives,” said Miller.
Citing its preschool and daycare center and plethora of educational programs, he said, “I believe synagogues should…create opportunities for people of all ages to learn and be challenged by the wisdom of our faith.”
Honorees at the event will be Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick Tomorrow, and Anshe Emeth itself for its educational and cultural programming and corps of volunteers. It will feature dancing with the Franklin & Alison Band and performances by the Rutgers Jazz Ensemble, Broadway and television star Shelly Burch, and Martin Charon, creator of the musical Annie.
“L’hibanot means to build up in Hebrew, and that was the meaning of our initiative,” said Roth. “It will provide us with the necessary resources to cultivate the next generation of temple leaders who will ensure our temple’s continued vitality.”