Two years after its congregation moved out — forced into a merger by shifting demographics — a synagogue building on Morris Avenue in Union has been sold to a Muslim organization, the Islamic Center of Union County. A banner across the front declares its new ownership.
The Temple Israel building at 2372 Morris Ave. was put on the market in 2008 when the Conservative congregation merged with Temple Beth Ahm in Springfield, to form what is now Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael.
Representatives from both sides welcomed the deal as a cooperative act between two religious groups, although Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael’s rabbi, Mark Mallach, condemned what he called some “vicious attacks” from members of the Jewish community.
“It is our hope to develop ties of friendship and cooperation with the ICUC, with whom we share a linkage as descendants of Abraham, and to work together to oppose xenophobia wherever it raises its ugly head,” wrote Mallach, in a letter to NJJN.
Established in a storefront near the Irvington border, the Temple Israel congregation had taken up residence on Morris Avenue in the 1960s; it grew to about 250 members, but by the time of the merger, that number had halved.
David Glass, the president of the combined congregation, said that no other viable buyer had emerged until the ICUC came forward. He declined to say what they paid for the building, but on the ICUC website, it states that the building was bought for $1.4 million.
Glass said that most people had been very supportive of the deal. “We Jews, more than anyone, should understand the need for respect and cooperation between groups,” he said.
Glass said he was pleased that the building is to remain a house of worship, rather than being converted to commercial use.
“We’re hoping to have further contact with the Islamic center and maybe to establish some kind of dialogue between our organizations,” he said.
Wail Rasheed, the board member of the ICUC who was Glass’ counterpart in the purchase discussions, reported a similar response.
“It was all positive feedback from our community and the community at large,” he wrote in response to e-mailed questions from NJJN. “The members were pleased to maintain a house of worship, where God’s name was and will continue to be praised.”
He said the center was established in Newark in 1987 and now has a membership “in the two hundreds.” The purchase of the Morris Avenue building, he said, was necessitated by the growth of the Muslim community in the Union area.
Rasheed wrote that the ICUC has sought “to serve as a vehicle to bridge the gaps between the members of the Muslim, Christian, and the Jewish faiths, and for our youth to prosper and coexist in this diversified county.”
Mallach likened the sale to Abraham’s purchase of a burial plot from its Hittite owners, described in this week’s Torah portion, Hayei Sarah.
“Once again, sacred space has been sold, yet remains to serve another tribe’s sacred needs,” he wrote.
A similar sentiment was voiced by a member of the congregation who asked not to be named for fear he would draw verbal attacks from those opposed to the sale. He recalled as a child the pro-Nazi activities in Union and the anti-Semitism Temple Israel members faced when they first moved into the Morris Avenue premises.
Things got much better over the years, he said, and he welcomed this latest development as a celebration of the values that Temple Israel stood for.
“Some people don’t like it, but I see this sale is an act of friendship and understanding between two groups that have had some difficulty with each other,” he said.