Manalapan Jewish Connection: learning builds community

Manalapan Jewish Connection: learning builds community

An MJC barbecue in July was attended by, from left, Adam Ilhaber, Steve Tzerlin, and Rabbi Avi Kramer. Kneeling in front is MJC co-director Rabbi Shalom Jacoby. Photos courtesy Manalapan Jewish Connection
An MJC barbecue in July was attended by, from left, Adam Ilhaber, Steve Tzerlin, and Rabbi Avi Kramer. Kneeling in front is MJC co-director Rabbi Shalom Jacoby. Photos courtesy Manalapan Jewish Connection

When Rabbi Shalom Jacoby came to Manalapan with his family six years ago he noticed a number of Jews there with little connection to their religion.

So when Chanukah came around he and his family went to homes with menorahs in the windows and offered the traditional holiday treat of jelly donuts.

“We invited people to a Chanukah party at our home and had about 25 people,” he told NJJN. “That was the beginning of our connection to our neighbors.”

That connection was solidified last year when he and Rabbi David Rosenthal, a Manalapan native who returned to the community after earning semicha and a doctorate in talmudic law from Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Maryland, co-founded the Manalapan Jewish Connection (MJC).

“We wanted a chance to provide Jewish educational opportunities for the community,” said Rosenthal, who grew up at Congregation Sons of Israel, a traditional synagogue in Manalapan.

MJC describes itself as an outreach and educational organization. It brings in monthly speakers, conducts classes on Jewish subjects from an Orthodox perspective (see “If you go” below), hosts one-on-one study sessions, and plans holiday gatherings and social events such as barbecues and dinners. It also partners with local institutions like Torah Links of Monmouth County, the Jewish Learning Center, Shalom Torah Academy, Congregation Sons of Israel, and Union Hill Congregation, whose facilities they use for events.

When asked why the pair thought their organization was needed in an area that already has a number of Jewish institutions, Rosenthal said, “We just thought the more the better. Jewish education is what keeps the Jewish people alive. There are amazing organizations in this area and we wanted to be a part of that.”

Monthly lectures draw some 60-80 people, according to Rosenthal, and are often followed by a kosher Chinese dinner. Aline Shlinger of Manalapan has been a regular attendee and said through MJC she’s befriended other Jews.

“It really adds something to the community,” by bringing another outlet for engagement and learning, she told NJJN.

Shlinger also attends functions at Union Hill, Torah Links, and Jewish Learning Center.

MJC recently began offering free bar mitzvah lessons and will arrange bat mitzvah lessons if asked, and is now collecting items to start a gemach, where people can borrow things ranging from household items to baby carriages to tools.

Jacoby, a Toronto native, earned degrees in Talmud and Hebrew language from Beth Medrash Govoha, the Lakewood yeshiva from where he was sent to Manalapan to help found the Kollel of Western Monmouth County. In addition to his duties with MJC, he teaches Jewish studies to seventh- and eighth-grade boys at Shalom Torah Academy in Morganville.

Sandy Teitelbaum, a 38-year resident of Manalapan, recently reduced her work schedule and was looking to increase her knowledge about Judaism. A friend recommended MJC. She has attended several events and said she found them so inspirational that she is planning on increasing her involvement with the organization as well as others in the community.

“I really liked them and learned a lot,” said Teitelbaum. “I’m really coming in on the ground floor and I want to get more involved.”

Jacques Gros of Morganville has been involved with MJC for several months. He praised the group’s activities and classes, particularly the weekly parsha (Torah portion) class, which “gives you the opportunity to ask questions.”

Like the others interviewed, Gros is involved with various Jewish institutions and attends services at the Chabad of Western Monmouth County in Manalapan.

“I think for certain types of communities to be successful they need to have a variety of sources of learning, just like you need a variety of supermarkets or restaurants to attract people,” he said. “We need a critical mass of religious insights to make a community such as this successful.”

If you go

What: “A Prescription for Spirituality: Uncovering the Meaning of the High Holidays” lecture and dinner
Who: Torah scholar and Harvard-trained physician Dr. Howard Lebowitz
Where: Union Hill Congregation, Manalapan
When: Thursday, Sept. 19, 8 p.m.
Cost: $5 suggested donation

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