Stan Beckerman will be among those celebrating the 25th birthday of Adath Shalom in Parsippany at a gala dinner on Saturday evening, Oct. 19.
Like many of his peers, Beckerman is feting a community that goes back much further than 25 years. The current congregation dates to the merger of Congregation Adath Israel in Dover and Temple Beth Shalom in Boonton in 1988, but through those synagogues, the community can trace its lineage to the World War I era.
That was just a few decades after the first Jewish family, headed by Leopold Schwarz, moved to the newly incorporated Dover in 1869. The Dover community was among Morris County’s first organized Jewish communities and Adath Israel among its first congregations.
Temple Beth Shalom, meanwhile, was founded in Boonton in the late 1940s.
By the 1980s, both congregations were losing members and struggling. Adath Israel had an older, more traditional membership and Beth Shalom’s congregation was younger and more liberal in observance. When Beth Shalom suggested a merger, Adath Israel, also known as the Dover Jewish Center, liked what they saw.
“When we were approached by Boonton about discussing the possibility of joining their congregation, we thought it was a perfect fit,” said Beckerman, who was president of Adath Israel when they merged. “We spent about a year getting the details right and finding what were the best aspects of the two communities. We both lost a few members — some wanted something more Conservadox; others wanted something more Reform. But in general, it worked very well.”
For a few years, the merged group, now called Adath Shalom, met at the Dover building, while they raised the funds to build something between the two locations. In 1997, with a Torah scroll procession winding through the streets from Dover to Parsippany, they moved into their new building, on eight and a half acres in the Powder Mill section of the town. The Oct. 19 gala will be held at the synagogue.
The merger has proved so successful that when current president Michael Stepak moved to the area and joined the congregation six years ago, he saw only what appeared to be a single “seamless” community. Only over time did he come to understand the history and realize what people meant when they said, “I’m from Dover” or “I’m from Boonton.”
Hazan Jack Korbman was the cantor at Temple Beth Shalom in Boonton for three years before the merger and remains the cantor of Adath Shalom. Although each synagogue community “was set in its ways, it was interesting that the merger went very smoothly with very few problems,” he said.
He added that Adath Shalom retains “the old-time feeling of davening with kavana — you cry a little and you laugh a little as we pray together. We have learned that we all are responsible for each other in our synagogue, in sickness and in health.”
As Stepak put it, “We’re celebrating, I think, that people did what was necessary to continue as a synagogue, 25 years ago. Because they came together and worked things out, we are now a strong congregation of many different ages.”