On a sunny sutumn day, a crowd of almost 700 gathered to celebrate a milestone in the life of a thriving religious institution, as Torah Links of Middlesex County held the grand opening of its $2.6 million Marion and Norman Tanzman Center for Jewish Life building in East Brunswick.
“I am totally overwhelmed by the outpouring of love,” Torah Links codirector Rabbi Shlomo Landau told the crowd made up of government, religious, and community leaders; representatives of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey; and residents who came to witness the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Attendees also had a chance to explore the sprawling 15,000-square-foot, three-story structure, which includes five classrooms and a library, social hall/kiddush room, sanctuary, mikvah for kashering utensils, and teen lounge.
Landau termed the event, attended as it was by an exuberant crowd of well-wishers, “a mega simcha.” He reflected on the growth of Torah Links, which put down roots in East Brunswick 17 years ago as Project Gesher. The education organization’s steady growth since then necessitated a move from its initial home, rented office space in the Atrium Building on Cornwall Drive, to the 1.5-acre site of the former McGinnis School at the intersection of Dunhams Corner Road and Hardenburg Lane.
Torah Links is an Orthodox-based education and outreach organization serving Jews of all affiliations and backgrounds. Affiliated with Beth Medrash Govoha, the Lakewood Yeshiva, it also runs Torah Links of Monmouth County and Torah Links of South Jersey in Cherry Hill.
Rabbi Dovid Gross, the other Torah Links codirector, recalled its first program, a Chanukah celebration held at the former Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School in South River, an event that drew about two dozen people. “I brought along my toaster oven from home to heat the two pans of baked ziti,” he said.
“We’ve come a long way.”
The organization now serves more than 400 families, offering a religious school for youngsters, adult education classes, Shabbat and holiday services, bar and bat mitzvah classes, the MTV (Mitzvah Torah Values) teen program, the after-school Jewish Enrichment Program for Youth, and JWEB, or Jewish Women of East Brunswick.
Torah Links purchased the new property in 2013 for $375,000 from the township and began tearing down the unused school in January 2015.
Landau said one of the most gratifying aspects of the fund-raising campaign was the many contributions that came from members of the local community. There was also a “quite significant” gift from the Woodbridge-based Marion & Norman Tanzman Charitable Foundation that represented the “anchor gift,” Landau said, though he declined to specify the exact amount.
Foundation president Jeffries Shein, a son-in-law of the late State Sen. Norman Tanzman and his wife, Marion, told NJJN, “We fund many Jewish organizations throughout the community and New Jersey. We thought this institution of Jewish life in East Brunswick needed a permanent home, and we are delighted to be a part of it.” The Shein and Tanzman grandchildren attend religious school at Torah Links, and the Tanzman Foundation recently gave Rutgers Hillel a $1 million gift for its new building.
Landau said the connection with the foundation came through Roy Tanzman, a nephew of the Tanzmans and a foundation trustee. Tanzman had arranged for Landau to conduct study sessions with himself and other lawyers at Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer in Woodbridge.
Gross was overcome with emotion as he announced that his parents, Joel and Sandra Gross of Millburn, are donating a new Torah scroll to the organization in memory of their parents. The Gross family gathered around sofer, or religious scribe, Rabbi Dovid Zelmanowitz as he inscribed the first letter in the scroll. Children attending the event gathered for the second letter. The scroll will be completed in a year.
“I’ve lived in East Brunswick 25 years, and I can’t remember the last time there’s been a new Jewish learning center in this community that reaches out to all Jews — Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, haredi, unaffiliated, and secular,” csaid Torah Links president Dr. Steve Reich.
“What defines us as Jewish people is Jewish learning,” said Reich. “This center is a tremendous asset to the community. Without learning of Torah, there is no Jewish people.”
The Novominsker rebbe, Yaakov Perlow, who came from Borough Park in Brooklyn for the occasion, said that although the most fervently religious people in his community believe they are the Jews who have brought about a “spiritual revolution” since the Holocaust, “they are only half of it.”
Describing the NJ community, he said, “This is a way of life that is meaningful. It represents a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name.”
Perlow described the area as being “in the sticks of New Jersey,” then said, chuckling, “Excuse me, but I’m from the schmaltz of Brooklyn.”
Then he turned serious and said of the Middlesex community that by erecting this building, “you bring the Jewish people home.”