A 26-year-old Orthodox congregation in Edison has purchased its first permanent building, a historic move its leaders believe will spur growth and innovation.
On Feb. 28 Congregation Ahavas Yisrael took possession of the building on Route 27 near Derby Appliance that it has rented for the last six years.
“This is a monumental thing for the congregation,” said Rabbi Gedaliah Jaffe.
Ahavas Yisrael had met for years in the homes of the Josefovitz and Avraham families, moving to its current site to accommodate its growing membership.
Three years ago the synagogue faced eviction after a group of investors made an offer to buy the land to build a strip mall. In response, the congregation organized the SOS (Save Our Shul) campaign to buy and renovate the facility.
The campaign raised $250,000, said synagogue president Zev Moskowitz, and in July, the 70-family congregation purchased the lot next door, which included a vacant, dilapidated house. That house has since been razed, allowing the congregation to expand and possibly add features they have long dreamed about, including a mikva, or ritual bath.
“We’re looking to grow,” said Moskowitz, “and this is the type of progress people want to see. People are moving into our neighborhood. The Orthodox community has been growing every year for more than a decade. We can present ourselves as an option to this influx of new families.”
Young Orthodox couples have poured into south Edison, attracted by homes less expensive and newer than those in neighboring Highland Park. The area from south Edison through New Brunswick is enclosed in a contiguous eruv, or Shabbat boundary, which allows observant Jews to push carriages or carry items beyond their homes on the Sabbath.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us,” said Jaffe. “There has been such organic growth in the community…and, God willing, we will grow with it. We really want to do something that meets the needs and fulfills the dreams of the congregation.”
Preliminary architectural plans were drawn early in the fund-raising process, but plans won’t be finalized until members are polled “to get a sense of what kind of campaign we need to initiate now that we own the facility,” said Moskowitz. “One of those options might be a whole new facility.”
He said the congregation needs a larger sanctuary and new facilities for both young people and adults, including a simha room for kiddush and celebrations.
“Now we essentially use the same room we daven in,” he said. “It’s always been a lot of work and that would be a huge upgrade for us. We’ve also had to turn away bar mitzvas at our synagogue because we have no room to house people. Now people will be able to have a bar mitzva in their own synagogue.”
While the congregation mulls major architectural changes, it is also “well aware our building needs a major overhaul,” said Moskowitz. Some short-term renovations are planned for the outside of the building, including landscaping.
Moskowitz said Ahavas Yisrael now has its first youth director in some years and has reconfigured space to allow children to be separated into three age groups during services.
Two services — at 6:45 and 8:45 — are now offered Shabbat mornings, and, more importantly, he said, ownership has “invigorated” many more congregants who have been moved to greater volunteerism.
“People who have always been on the sidelines immediately expressed excitement,” said Moskowitz. “I’ve received all kinds of positive feedback.”