Hudson Jewish Community Forum

"A hearty and happy Hanukkah in Hudson" Print E-mail
Written by By Father Alexander Santora, The Jersey Journal, December 13, 2007, p. 22   
Photos: Emily Anne Epstein for the Jersey Journal

On the eighth day of Hanukkah, this past Tuesday sundown to Wednesday, the Jewish community of Hudson County gathered at the Bayonne Jewish Community Center for "A Celebration of Lights, Latkes and Live Music." It was such a rousing evening that Rabbi Gordon Gladstone and other speakers had to continually quiet the nearly 400 people eating, talking and dancing so they could hear the talks and presentations as members from eight Hudson County synagogues were honored. But almost everyone I spoke with couldn't have been happier about the noisy crowd. Esther Newman of Bayonne said it was "absolutely fantastic." At 64, she probably represents the typical synagogue member throughout Hudson County. She hasn't seen too many newcomers come to Temple Emanu-El in Bayonne but she is hopeful.

"I've never seen so many Jewish children," said Joyce Nestle, a former teacher and cantorial soloist at Temple Beth-Am in Bayonne, who was one of the honorees. "And it's wonderful!"

zhanuk1_lighting.jpg There was a program for children before the formal ceremony and Menorah lighting of the last candle. And once the children entered the large gathering, there was an air of festivity as parents tried to keep up with their energetic movement. According to chief organizer Adam Weiss, who also chairs the bi-monthly Hudson Jewish Community Forum, approximately 30 families are now exploring the re-establishment of a Jewish elementary school in Hudson County. One hasn't existed since around 1990 when the last local Jewish day school closed in Union City, said Weiss.

zhanuk6_father.jpg This may have been the largest community-wide local Jewish event in many decades according to event organizer Michelle Levine, who serves on the Bayonne JCC's Board of Directors as well as the HudsonJewish volunteer working group. Weiss adds that, to his knowledge, "there hasn't been a county-wide Jewish event like this since 1929 and the arrival of so many Jewish people to our area makes it especially important for our whole community to cooperate, celebrate together and extend a warm welcome to newcomers at holiday time." Weiss said that the 1960 American Jewish yearbook listed the total Jewish population in Hudson County at 31,825; the 2006 issue lists it as 12,200. However, anecdotal data suggest a major turn-around in the local Jewish population, which will probably show up in the stats soon, he said. He cites young professional people who work in New York City and live in Hudson County, "empty nesters" moving in from the suburbs, and a substantial group of Israeli immigrants who are largely of North African/Sephardic origin and add an interesting Middle Eastern flavor to the existing (mostly Eastern European) Jewish population. He also noted that some synagogues report a large number of new people who showed up for High Holidays services this year.

zhanuk3_hat.jpg More than 800 people now receive the monthly HudsonJewish Newsletter and The Kaplan Cooperative Preschool (affiliated with United Synagogue of Hoboken) is overflowing, which proves that people are staying in town and having families here. Newly-weds Jessica and Alan Lemmon, both 28, settled into Society Hill and joined B'nai Jacob on West Side Avenue. "It's like walking into Jewish grandmothers and grandfathers, who are so welcoming," said Jessica, who grew up in Matawan.

zhanuk4_girl.png The festival of Hanukkah (Hebrew for "dedication") commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. following the Maccabees' defeat of the Syrian-Greek Empire that had seized it for pagan worship. Putting the event in religious and historical context, Rabbi Gladstone noted, "Just as our ancestors created Hanukkah to celebrate the revival of Jewish life in their times, we too celebrate the revival of our community."

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