Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh, the last remaining Orthodox synagogue in Perth Amboy, has closed after 108 years, a victim of the flight of Jews from the city to the suburbs over the last several decades.
The synagogue, whose original Byzantine design gained international renown and which once boasted a membership of 800 families, could no longer draw a minyan and will hold a contents sale on Sunday, Oct. 23.
“We’ve been preparing to sell the building for years,” said Shep Sewitch, a member of the synagogue’s five-person presidium. “It’s a sad thing we have to close this shul, but we have no more Jews left in Perth Amboy. There are no more young Jewish families and no Jewish children.”
The city’s lone remaining synagogue, the Conservative Congregation Beth Mordecai, is continuing on for now with much of its 80-85 member families coming from outside Perth Amboy.
Sewitch, a 90-year-old lifelong city resident and his brother, Bill, another presidium member, are retired contractors who rebuilt the synagogue in 1976 after it was destroyed in a massive fire the year before. The congregation relocated from Madison Avenue to the corner of Market and Water streets.
Dr. Mona Shangold, who grew up at Shaarey Tefiloh and is part of a group of volunteers helping to research and record the history of the city’s Jewish community, is wistful about its demise.
“Every holiday every seat was always filled,” she said. “No one then could have ever imagined a time there would be no Jews in Perth Amboy…. It takes a lot of courage to take the step of closing a synagogue so many people feel a great nostalgia for. No one wants to face the end of an era.”
A complete history of Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh and Perth Amboy’s Jewish community will appear in the Nov. 1 issue of NJ Jewish News.