Stephanie Stern and her daughter, Miranda
I grew up in a mostly non-practicing Jewish family. We were not kosher and I loved lobster, pork bacon and cheeseburgers. Not being fundamental from the beginning, I found my way back to Judaism after a long wonderful journey. To be brief, I am kosher now...at least in my home. I’m still working with the rest of the world – balancing one meal at a time.
As a young adult, I wanted to escape New York rents and found life in Hudson County to be well situated with its proximity to Manhattan. When I got married, I moved back into the city. We were blessed with our daughter on September 19, 2001 – 30 minutes into the 3rd of Tishri, and eight days after 9-11. We were blessed.
Coming back to Hudson County as a single mother, I lived in Weehawken and began to ‘shop’ for a local synagogue. I loved the Garment Center Synagogue in New York, because the Rabbi let us sit together on High Holidays, and had a wonderful way in including the importance of the presence of women at the services. Although the services were traditional, the sermons were modern in thinking and at least half of the attendants were women – many single, independent, and very proud of their professional careers.
I thought about commuting to the city, but then found Temple Beth El in North Bergen. I have since moved to North Bergen, and find life here, incredible.
When people hear our name, they assume we are reform. The title “Temple” is equivalent mostly with the reform movement. However, we are conservative /traditional – with women participating in the public prayers, sitting on the Board, and driving the shape of how we are reinvigorating the local Jewish community. I found what I had wanted so dearly – a traditional service with empowered mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers – at the heart of creating the future of our synagogue.
I am a master’s candidate in education and special education, and started up the Sunday School from grass roots. There was no fuss – just a need. Why? Because Beth El knows that families are our future, and families have needs for their children. Whether they are playing in the playrooms, or running up and down the aisle during the closing song of services, our children are the heart and soul of who we are. With so many Jewish families in each building complex, we hope for at least 20-30 kids each week from Boulevard East and surrounding communities.
I cannot say enough good things about North Bergen New Jersey. I have lived all over the county, and find that the ease of commuting to Manhattan, coupled with – in my humble opinion – is the most beautiful park on the Palisades; North Bergen is a progressive modern township that is family centered. The schools are great, and the town includes all who want to live and contribute to a better life here across the Hudson.
My daughter is only one of 500 students in her class who is Jewish. However, her education at Beth El has translated into much greater understanding and support from her teachers and her classmates. I was invited twice this year to talk about Chanukkah, and Passover at the Kindergarten. Miranda has a strong identity of her heritage because of Beth El and because of support from her educators.
At North Bergen's Lincoln School, Frances Pastore, Vice Principal told us that "the eighth grade class did a lot of growing up in a very little amount of time," when one of our residents – a Holocaust Survivor – was asked to speak to the graduates about the Shoah, survival and the triumph of the human spirit. When a town like North Bergen shows this kind of compassion and understanding, it is truly a place where Jewish people want to continue to grow and rebuild a community.
One more note: we are truly blessed to have the Yeshiva at Beth Abraham only 15 blocks away. It makes me very happy to have such a fantastic development for Jewish life in North Bergen.
Our own congregants are from all over the world. The couples are modern, many interfaith, our Rabbi and Rebitzon are as ‘Borough Park’ as it gets, and somehow it all works. Come visit any Shabbat – let us know you’re coming, or look for Yaakov or myself at the services (I’ll be the one chasing after the kids). Come and be part our synagogue family as well as our neighbors.