With four decades and a major fire behind them, members of Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah, Parsippany’s oldest Orthodox synagogue, are working to build a bright future.
On May 17, the small congregation of about 30 members welcomed more than 150 people to its 40th anniversary gala, held at the Madison Hotel in Morristown.
“Two years ago we had a fire and we were out of the building for a long time,” said Rabbi Shalom Lubin, who has been the congregation’s leader for the last 12 years. The fire, in April 2013, left about $150,000 worth of damage in its wake. “We are rebuilding from the ashes, and we are continuing to grow and thrive,” he said.
Over time, the congregation has come to view the fire in a positive light. “Everyone stepped up and said, ‘What can I do to help make the shul whole again?” said Lubin, adding, “It really helped us recreate and strengthen our identity.”
And in repairing the damage, members realized it was an opportunity to plan for the future. They beautified and made plans to expand, creating a social hall in the basement, expected to be completed by next December. They also enlisted an architect to design a mikva they hope they will eventually be able to build on the property.
The synagogue, which already sits within an eruv, has made plans to expand the symbolic Shabbat boundary — which enables families to push strollers and carry objects out of their homes on the Sabbath and holy days — to include more of the nearby hotels.
And the congregation recently joined the Bonim program — a community-wide effort to attract new Orthodox families through day school tuition breaks — at Livingston’s Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. (The program is part of an affordability initiative launched in conjunction with the Greater MetroWest Day School Initiative; five other Orthodox synagogues in the area have also joined.)
Gala honorees included long-serving congregation board members Gershon Goldberg, Lewis and Linda Golovin, Louis Goodman, and Barry Levitt and Constance Pallas as well as Lubin and his wife Aharona and congregation president Naomi Rotter.
Most of these recipients have put in more than their share of volunteer hours, often serving multiple terms as president, spending hours on the phone to ensure a minyan, and simply pitching in whenever necessary. Lew Golovin said, in a video shown at the gala, “The only reason an organization survives is that it has a very hard-working core of people who work basically endlessly to keep the place going. That’s true of our synagogue.”
Congregation Ahavat Torah began in 1974 when Philip Bardash, Stanley Kaplan, Irv Gavrin, and George Kace decided to form an Orthodox minyan in Parsippany. The group rented space until 1997, when it moved into its current location. “Shaya” was added in 2001 after a bequest was made in memory of Samuel Graw, whose Hebrew name was Shaya.
According to members, the defining feature of Shaya Ahavat Torah, which often attracts weekend visitors from throughout the tristate area, is its friendliness. “We welcome visitors. We try to make everybody feel at home,” said Linda Golovin.
“It’s that feeling of inclusiveness that I think really marks this congregation,” added Rotter.