Last month, members of a congregation forged “in love” from two synagogues celebrated the High Holy Days together for the first time in their newly expanded home, Congregation Ahavat Olam in Howell.
The merger of Congregation Ahavat Shalom (“Love of Peace”) of Lakewood and Congregation Ahavat Achim (“Love of Brothers”)/Jewish Community Center of Howell came together like a “marriage made in heaven,” said Cantor David Amar of Ahavat Olam (“Love of the World”).
“Just like every marriage, there were some bumps, but people worked hand-in-hand to build a stronger community,” said Amar, who also heads the temple’s religious school. “It’s similar to the prophecy in Ezekiel where two roots combined to build a tree, uniting the houses of Israel.”
During the two years of construction at the Ahavat Achim property on Windeler Road, services were held at a Reform temple in Lakewood and the Jackson Mills firehouse. Prayer books and Torah scrolls journeyed back and forth until the construction on the five-acre site was completed.
“Everyone is very thrilled and invigorated by our beautiful new place of worship,” said Rabbi Michael Klein, religious leader of Ahavat Olam. “The strengths of both congregations have turned us into a stronger congregation able to meet the varied needs of the Conservative Jewish community,”
Klein served as rabbi of the former Ahavat Achim for 23 years. Rabbi Lee Paskind, the former religious leader of Ahavat Shalom, moved to Peekskill, NY. The sale of the Lakewood temple helped fund the new construction, as well as a building fund raised by Ahavat Achim.
‘From the heart’
The renovated building features a main sanctuary that can accommodate about 1,000 people, a star of David-shaped chapel that holds about 150 people; a banquet hall for up to 400 people; meat, dairy, and pareve kitchens; and, in the educational wing, a new media center, youth lounge, and classrooms. The congregation worked with SWS Architects of Livingston and S. Seltzer Construction Corporation of Kenilworth on the $5.7 million project.
“It is truly a magnificent sanctuary, and we hope it will beckon many more members of the Jewish community to make it their place of worship,” Klein said.
Members approached each phase of construction with good humor and grace, Amar said. The doors of the Torah ark were not ready in time for a bar mitzva on the temple’s first Shabbat in August, so a small portable ark was brought in, which appeared dwarfed in the magnificent 30-foot space. The congregation’s sukka could not be located in the storage units, so a member brought her family’s to the site.
“Not everyone fit in the sukka, but no one complained,” the cantor said. “When you do something from your heart, it helps fill other people’s hearts with joy.”
Building committee chair David Kobb of Howell said one of the challenges was keeping the religious school classes running while the expansion took place. “The merger gave us an opportunity to build a real Jewish community center as opposed to just a synagogue,” he said. Temple vice president Irwin Rubman of Howell served as chair of the interiors committee.
Congregation president Arlene Schwartz of Bricktown, former president of Ahavat Shalom, credits the newly formed synagogue for reinvigorating her family’s spiritual life. “Our temple membership in Lakewood was aging, and there was little chance of gaining new members from the community around us,” she said. “Now we have a family-oriented sanctuary, school, and social hall, where we enjoy the spirit and fellowship of Judaism in an atmosphere that feels like home.”