HUDSON COUNTY, New Jersey, June 2007: Approximately 70 rabbis, synagogue officers, and Jewish community leaders from Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, North Bergen, Union City, Newark, and adjoining communities attended a historic meeting of the Hudson Jewish Community Forum on Thursday, June 14, at 7:15 PM at the Bayonne Jewish Community Center, 1050 Kennedy Boulevard, Bayonne 07002. The agenda featured a PowerPoint presentation on how the region’s synagogues and other Jewish organizations can attract the new generation of younger Jews who are settling in the region.
“The June 14 meeting of the Hudson Jewish Community Forum will be a truly historic occasion in the life of our community,” said Irwin Rosen, president of Temple Beth-El of Jersey City and a municipal court judge. “Now that a new generation of young Jewish people is settling in our community, the time has come to harness their immense energy and creativity and build on the foundations that their grandparents’ generation laid for them,” he continued.
Hudson County, which faces Manhattan along the Hudson River, was once home to perhaps 30,000 Jews. The region is currently experiencing a resurgence of Jewish life following decades of suburban flight and the closure of many landmark synagogue buildings. “It’s obvious that young Jewish people are drawn to us by excellent housing values and by the fact that we’re minutes from New York City,” said Ken Schept, president of United Synagogue of Hoboken. Schept pointed to his synagogue’s successful capital campaign, an increasing number of bar- and bat mitzvahs, and the presence of 70 baby strollers at High Holiday services last year.
Joel Shulman, president of Congregation Ohav Zedek in Bayonne, echoed Schept’s enthusiasm. “Our immediate neighborhood in Bayonne is home to 3 different synagogues. We have a new Light Rail line that connects people to jobs and opportunities in the City, and we’re 20 minutes from Newark Airport. There’s truly something here for everyone.” Other area communities are also taking an interest in Hudson County developments: Eric Freedman, president Newark’s oldest continuously operating synagogue, Ahavas Sholom, noted, “The generation that grew up in the suburbs is rediscovering the benefits of urban living – Jews are discovering their roots in New Jersey’s revitalized cities.”
An initial meeting of the Hudson Jewish Community Forum, held April 17, 2007, attracted 38 participants from across virtually the entire spectrum of Jewish organizations and led to the establishment of a Working Group tasked to develop specific proposals on reviving Jewish life in the fast-growing region.
The Working Group presented its findings and recommendations to the assembly on June 14. The Working Group defined three initiatives:
* Establish a website at www.HudsonJewish.org to highlight local Jewish resources and gather information on the many newcomers.
* Jointly market High Holidays services at all institutions, as well as other religious and non-religious events to raise the profile of the entire Jewish community, drive synagogue attendance and involvement, and send a strong message of communal unity.
* Create a year-long calendar of events, to be heavily promoted at High Holiday services, to give newcomers and long-time residents a full year of concrete reasons to continue connecting with other Jews and Jewish organizations.
Dr. Neil Davis, 32, a leader of the Working Group and member of Congregation Mount Sinai in Jersey City Heights, noted how much effort he and his colleagues have put into developing their recommendations: “It’s been only six weeks since our initial meeting, and we have already launched a full-featured website, an ad campaign for the High Holidays, and a full year of community-wide programs. The only thing we need to do now is get the word out that the Jewish community is alive and well and living in Hudson County.”