Hudson Jewish Community Forum

At home in Hoboken Synagogue Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Diamant   
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff

Leaving behind her Hoboken synagogue was the hardest part of Amanda Grant's 2003 move to Boston, a move she made for a job offer.

In the Bay State, she tried and tried, each weekend for a year, to find a synagogue she liked as much, a synagogue where she wanted to raise a child. But she found nothing that excited her.

So this summer she moved back to Hoboken.

"When I was in Boston, I knew I loved being part of United Synagogue of Hoboken," said Grant, 40, who is in the process of adopting a baby. "There's almost a palatable energy that comes out of being there ... I loved the sense of community. It has a vibe I've never experienced anywhere else."

Hers is a common sentiment at United Synagogue of Hoboken, which has proved unusually adept at attracting young Jewish families with children. Now, the urban synagogue is set to begin a $2.3 million renovation, with about half the money raised from the membership.

Placed earlier this year on the National and New Jersey registers of historic places, the temple has seen its membership more than double in the last decade, to 270 households from 130.

Members credit both the 1998 arrival of Rabbi Robert Scheinberg and the gentrification that has brought high numbers of young singles, young families, and empty-nesters to Hoboken. Shabbat services are child-friendly. When the Torah is marched around the synagogue each Saturday morning, children follow with faux mini-torahs.

"The rabbi has brought a great source of energy here, and a lot of inclusiveness," said Jane Klueger, a member since 1994. "When I started, if there were one or two bar mitzvahs a year, that was a lot. This year, there are 10. Families of children have stayed in the community."

In an era in which 40 to 50 percent of American Jews reportedly marry someone outside the faith, Scheinberg is credited for making non-Jewish spouses feel welcome.

"He's very open to interreligious and interfaith couples, whereas when we went to synagogues in suburbs, without fail every sermon was on the evils of intermarriage and the problems of today's Jewish children looking outside the religion," said Herman Weintraub, whose wife Joanna, raised Episcopalian, is preparing to convert to Judaism and is active at United Synagogue of Hoboken, even working in its pre-school. "Here, we're made to feel welcome."

The result, synagogue members say, is a relatively high number of conversions over the years, and formerly and current non-Jewish spouses who are active in the synagogue.

The coming renovations to the 93-year-old temple will include new wiring, an air-conditioning system and a new roof.

Of the $2.3 million for the renovation, the membership raised more than $1.1 million. A grant from the Kaplan Family Foundation -- Myron and Annette Kaplan were longtime members -- contributed an additional $450,000, and the New Jersey Preservation Trust chipped in $280,000.

The renovation seeks to recall an era early in the 20th century, when New Jersey's cities, including Hoboken and Newark, had sizable, thriving Jewish populations. United Synagogue of Hoboken, previously named Star of Israel, was one of three or four temples in the city at its 1905 founding.

The synagogue's president, Ken Schept, recalled that the heyday of Hoboken's Jewish community was long over when he and his wife moved to the city in 1971.

"Most people had either died or moved to the suburbs," he said. "The building actually was closed for many years, except for on the High Holidays, and it wasn't until the late 1980s when we had begun to have services there again."

Rebuilding the community took time, Schept said, and accelerated in the mid-1990s. He said he is thrilled that the community has found a way to welcome both young families and older people.

"We're finding people who are leaving the Jersey suburbs ... and are moving to Hoboken for a lot of different reasons -- for a lot of amenities Hoboken offers and its proximity to New York," he said. "But also because some of the recent (residential) developments were specifically constructed with (empty nesters) in mind, people who cash out in suburbs, come to Hoboken and are happy here."

Jeff Diamant may be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or (973) 392-1547.

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