Faced with eviction from the building it has called home for more than three years, Congregation Ahavas Yisrael in Edison has launched a community-wide drive to buy and renovate the facility.
The SOS (Save our Shul) campaign officially began about two months ago after a group of investors made an all-cash offer of about $400,000 to buy the land on Route 27 near Derby Appliance.
The investors plan to raze the building and build a strip mall, according to synagogue leaders.
The more than 20-year-old Orthodox congregation had met for years in the homes of the Josefovitz and Avraham families, but moved to its current site to accommodate its growing membership.
“We’ve basically been in a scramble to raise enough money to secure financing and make a counter-offer,” said David Zelingher, a new board member at the synagogue.
Zelingher is chairing a July 6 benefit concert at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park featuring Simply Tsfat (see sidebar).
“Team AY” will also run in the Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 20 to raise donations for the campaign.
Zelingher, who moved to Edison two years ago, said he typifies much of the congregation’s membership, which has been rapidly growing in recent years. Young Orthodox couples have poured into south Edison, attracted by homes that are less expensive and newer than those in neighboring Highland Park. The area from south Edison through New Brunswick is enclosed by an eruv, or Shabbat boundary of strings and existing demarcations allowing observant Jews to push carriages or carry items within its boundaries on Shabbat.
“Every Shabbos we’re basically bursting at the seams,” said Zelingher. “Once we get the building I don’t know how much money will be left over, but we plan to expand the men’s section by 20 to 30 feet and make a children’s playroom. We have so many kids and they are now in such a small space.”
The building is owned by synagogue member Silvio Taranda, who, Zelingher said, is trying to hold off the other investors.
Congregation president Jeff Borell said the shul’s approximately 70 member families have been “amazingly generous” and endured great financial sacrifices to help their shul, forgoing vacations and other niceties.
Looking to the future, Ahavas Yisrael hopes to purchase adjacent land where an unoccupied and dilapidated house now sits. They also hope to build a mikva, or ritual bath. Because Route 27 is now mostly commercial, Zelingher said, he believes the small lot would otherwise be unsellable should the congregation succeed in purchasing its building.
Rabbi Gedaliah Jaffe said the synagogue members had secured enough donations to gain financing in excess of the cash offer, but declined to give specifics, saying it may endanger negotiations.
He said the acquisition and renovation of the building would allow the shul not only to add seats but to expand programming for a congregation he described as “tremendously diverse.”
“You can have someone with a baseball cap sitting next to someone with a bekishe [black coat worn by hasidim], but everyone gets along,” Jaffe said. “One of our mandates is that we are community oriented.”
Borell said the entire Highland Park/south Edison community has gotten behind the campaign. Ahavas Achim rented its facility for the benefit concert for a “minimal” fee. Other community members have made donations.
“Even nonmembers have a vested interest in seeing the shul remain and grow,” he added. “It will bring in even more young families, which will be good for everybody, the kosher restaurants, the day schools. If we succeed, the whole community benefits.”
To donate to the campaign or Team AY, go to the synagogue’s website at ayedison.org.