Shul celebrates century of ‘tradition and caring’

Shul celebrates century of ‘tradition and caring’

First synagogue of Congregation Agudath Achim, built 1911-16 at First and Center streets. Photos courtesy Freehold Jewish Center
First synagogue of Congregation Agudath Achim, built 1911-16 at First and Center streets. Photos courtesy Freehold Jewish Center

In the last 100 years, Congregation Agudath Achim at Freehold Jewish Center has witnessed recessions, the Depression, and the advent of nearly a dozen other synagogues within a 10-mile radius. As the FJC grew, the borough of Freehold evolved from a bucolic farm village to a thriving county seat.

What keeps this synagogue thriving, despite the changes around it, is its “cohesive community steeped in tradition,” said congregation president Barry Hochberg of Marlboro. FJC members are now celebrating its centennial with a yearlong series of festivities.

“The Freehold Jewish Center has shown a resiliency that is certainly admirable. Many of our members now come from surrounding towns to be part of our haimische shul,” said Hochberg. “We are a true family for those who partake in our activities and davening, and we are a vital part of the religious history of Freehold.”

Longtime shul member David Metz of Freehold recalls a time when membership dues were $6 a year, and a comedian who came from the Catskills to perform a fund-raiser charged a whopping $25 fee.

“It’s unbelievable that time went by so fast. I was 12 when we moved to Freehold, and here I am, still active at 95,” Metz said. “I thank God for that, and I plan to keep going as long as I can.”

According to shul historian Evelyn Silbert, now a resident of Florida, the earliest Jewish families settled in Freehold in the 1880s. Most were merchants, artisans, farmers, or employees of the local shirt factory. Waves of immigrants from Russia and Poland settled there in the early 1900s, in a Jewish neighborhood known as Texas.

In 1911 residents drew up a charter for the formation of an Orthodox synagogue and purchased a lot at First and Center streets. The land and the construction of the small wooden structure cost about $1,000, which was collected in pennies, dimes, and quarters from members of the struggling congregation. The first Hebrew school began in September 1914.

As membership grew, the congregation purchased a larger property in the mid-’40s on Broad Street. Construction began in 1947, and the new building was dedicated in 1949. Over the years, meeting rooms, a gymnasium, social hall, and Hebrew school classrooms were added, and the sanctuary was expanded. The shul has shifted from Orthodox to “traditional”; its website uses the phrase “Tradition and Caring” to describe the congregation. It now boasts 175 member families, said Rabbi Kenneth Greene, spiritual leader for the last 13 years.

“The fact that the synagogue has continued to exist for 100 years as an active house of worship is a tribute to its founders and to the leadership that has been involved over the years,” Greene said.

For past president of the synagogue and school Bernard “Nardie” Hochberg of Freehold (no relation to Barry), the FJC was an integral part of his youth. “I was bar mitzva’d and married there, and my two daughters were bat mitzva’d there,” he said. “I am very proud to have been an active member, and feel fortunate that the vibrant young families who have joined in recent years share the same attitude about prayer and community as we do.”

Past president Jerome “Jerry” Einhorn of Freehold Township prides himself that the FJC is the only synagogue in the area to offer a daily minyan. “It really helps keep people connected,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely wonderful we have reached our 100th year. It’s a beautiful synagogue, and I look forward to its next 500 years.”

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