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One Building, Two Rabbis, Alternating Services

The New Jersey Jewish News reports two interdenominational congregations are sharing one building. The two congregations will hold separate services, alternating Friday night services. They have chosen to blend organizational and administrative styles during worship. Beth Shalom is a part of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), whereas the Jewish Congregation of Kinnelon is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ).

‘When it’s their service, it will follow URJ rules. When it’s our service, we will follow USCJ rules,’ [Larry] Tornow said, referring to the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. ‘Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur will be very interesting. We’re going to have a joint service. It’s going to be URJ until the Torah is brought out, and then it will be a USCJ service.’

The two congregations sealed their commitment to each other through ritual and tradition:

“The partnership took effect Aug. 17, and a Sept. 7 kabalat Shabbat ceremony symbolically sealed the deal, when JCK brought its two Torahs and placed them in the ark of the Beth Shalom sanctuary.

‘We wanted everyone to have a hand in getting our Torahs into the ark,’ said JCK vice president David Hellman. Among the last to place the Torah in the ark was JCK founding member Ed Weisselberg.

The congregation recognized the problems in the community’s religious ecology — the area was not necessarily large enough to support both Jewish congregations.

Tornow acknowledged that ‘changing demographics’ had caused the shrinking of the Beth Shalom membership from a high several decades ago of about 250 families to today’s 75 families.

‘We have a big building. It was good for the congregation at its height, but many people have moved out of the community, and there’s not many Jewish people living in Pompton Lakes anymore,’ said Beth Shalom’s Rabbi David Bockman. ‘The congregation is smaller and older, but we wanted to keep Judaism alive and well in this area for the people who live here.’

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org