April 12, 2024
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A Dream Grows in Fair Lawn: A Tribute to My Grandma, Rhoda Schneider, z”l

Growing up in Fair Lawn, I felt quite privileged to live across town from my Grandma Rhoda and Grandpa George, z”l. That meant picnics with my friends in their backyard on Alyson Street, sitting next to my Grandma in shul, bumping into her around town during the week and, my favorite, spending the Pesach Seders with them together at our home, when my Grandma would prepare her own gefilte fish from scratch until the age of 88 or so.

As I grew older, I came to understand the tremendous impact that my Grandma and Grandpa had on the community. When they moved to Fair Lawn over 60 years ago with their three daughters, there were only two Orthodox shuls at that time in all of Bergen County. They had a dream along with their friends, to establish an Orthodox shul in Fair Lawn. I could only imagine the courage it took and the great risks that were at stake, when in front of their eyes they viewed farmland and empty parking lots, yet in their minds they beheld a vision of an Orthodox community. This vision became a reality in 1966 and in a short time, became the thriving community that Fair Lawn is today.

My Grandma shared many stories with me about those early days, after they hired Rabbi and Shevi Yudin and the services were held in their basement on Morlot Avenue. My Grandma and her friends would prepare the food for the kiddushes each Shabbat. She would always say that the smell of the cholent helped bring more and more people to Shabbat services. She also shared with me stories of the challenging times, such as the meetings when my Grandpa and the other early members would be lobbying against much resistance for approval to purchase a plot of land for a permanent home for the shul. I am sure there were times when that original group thought they would lose their battle and that their dreams would fall through. Yet they pushed on and we know the results today, thanks to their tireless efforts and selfless devotion.

After my Grandma moved to Oak Park, Michigan, about 10 years ago, each time I would visit her, I would sit with her on the couch and together we would look through an album that my mother and her two sisters made in honor of the 40th wedding anniversary of my Grandma and Grandpa. I came to learn from the letters and newspaper clippings more about my Grandma, about her involvement with many organizations including Hadassah and Mizrachi Women, her fundraising efforts for charities in Israel and in the local Jewish community and about her chesed activities, such as delivering Meals-on-Wheels around Fair Lawn with my Grandpa for those in need. Whenever I would leave Michigan, I would feel so proud that this is my Grandma, this is the life she has led, this is the path she believed in and these are the values that she has taught me and her other grandchildren.

My Grandma passed away on April 17, at the age of 97. Shomrei Torah and the entire Jewish community of Fair Lawn is her legacy, and what a tremendous one it is. It is my hope that the many individuals who are members of the Jewish community of Fair Lawn today acknowledge the pioneers who paved the way for us all, in order that so many can reap the benefits. And when the gates of Shomrei Torah will open once again after this pandemic subsides, I ask that after you walk through those gates, look around and please take a moment to remember Rhoda Schneider, for the foundation she built for many generations.


Alisa Bodner grew up in Fair Lawn and has been living in Israel for the past nine years.

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