|Jersey City Shul Optimistic About the Next 100 Years|
|Written by Daniel Santacruz, reporter for the Jewish Standard.|
First published in the Jewish Standard, May 23, 2008.
Can you imagine? Hundreds of people sat in those seats, the men here and the women upstairs," said Ann Blaustein, the de facto historian of Cong. Mount Sinai in
The sentence that is supposed to follow, "and look at it now," doesn’t come. Instead, she sighs and goes over to check a window ledge that has been damaged severely by a water leak.
The "now" of the synagogue is not what it used to be: a thriving congregation in the Heights section of
The Sherman Avenue Talmud Torah, which housed a school and a synagogue, closed down in the 1980s after 95 years, and the two congregations merged. Some 200 former congregants who moved out of the area are still considered members and send in donations.
"They haven’t forgotten us," said Blaustein.
Mount Sinai is having a concert and a dinner on June 15 to celebrate its 102nd year as the oldest functioning Orthodox congregation in
Most synagogues honor living members who have done something worthy, but "we are honoring those who founded the shul through their descendants because without them, we wouldn’t have it," said Arthur Goldberg, the other co-president.
"Mount Sinai is a microcosm of
"If you are Jewish and live in
The real challenge for this and other older synagogues in the county, according to Weiss, is to market themselves better to attract younger members.
Blaustein sees herself as the synagogue historian because "there is nobody else left," she said smiling. "I started out being the youngest and now I’m the oldest."
Born in 1927 in
According to Blaustein, on Oct. 17, 1906, 43 men met at
In 1907 the congregation purchased land at
Blaustein still remembers many of the congregants whose names appear on several plaques on the two floors of the synagogue. Some stand out in her memory for their generosity. Others — like Joseph and Sophie Novick and the Sinakin family — because of the hours they devoted to the congregation and the Talmud Torah. Some she recalls because of their fundraising abilities, like Sarah Fellerman, who "taught us how to raise and give money," Blaustein said. Fellerman was the daughter of Bella Pesin and sister of Meyer and Morris Pesin. The last, who died in 1999 at 89, was editor emeritus of this newspaper.
She also remembers the women who walked down the streets of the neighborhood with collection boxes asking for donations for the synagogue’s journal dinner. And the ones who cooked for special occasions because there were no caterers.
The members, she said, were involved in each other’s lives, but "in a nice way. We celebrated together, we cried together."
Currently, Shabbat services are held in the first-floor sanctuary and conducted by Rabbi Shlomo Marks, who lives next door in a house owned by the synagogue. The second-floor sanctuary is reserved for the High Holidays.
Blaustein is concerned about needed repairs, chief among them the leak from the roof, which has taken its toll on the walls and inside the ark. Other repairs can wait, she said, like the missing light bulb, or the clock above the entrance to the sanctuary, stopped at 8:30. For now, she worries about the cleanup on the second floor, where the June 15 concert will be held.
Blaustein and Weiss are optimistic about the future.
"We’ll hang on and we’ll keep it going because young people are moving in," said Blaustein. "We stayed through the toughest time."
She expects that the synagogue will be declared a landmark, which means it can receive funds from the state.
Weiss, on the other hand, considers that the Friday night dinners, which didn’t exist a year ago, and the Saturday morning services, are a good sign.
"That’s progress," he said.
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Tickets for the concert, dinner, and dessert are $54. Tickets for the concert only are $36. Payment can be made by check or through Paypal at the synagogue’s Website, www.mtsinai.net, or at the door. Angela Oren, a Rumanian artist, will perform Israeli music with her band and a synagogue member, John Alvarado.
The synagogue is looking for the following families, descendants of the founding members: Blaustein, Brauer, Bresnick, Chasick, Chenkin,
But "the list is by no means complete," said Jane Goldberg,
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