Communities within New Jersey, especially Union County, don’t often attract international attention. However, last month was an exception as Kehilas Sheves Achim of Hillside, New Jersey, a new and vibrant shul, marked its first year with a hachnasat sefer Torah celebration, generously donated by the Abraham family of Johannesburg, South Africa. Hundreds of community members sang and danced into the streets, temporarily blocking traffic on Salem Avenue—one of the busiest intersections in Hillside—as children and adults took turns holding the Torah and canopy. A barbecue followed with magic shows and bounce houses for children, as well as musical entertainment led by Mordy Kurtz of the Rogers Park Band, accompanied by Mendy Portnoy.
As young and old assembled, many in the community were still unaware of the unfolding historical event. One long-time Hillside resident commented, “I was on a Zoom call but when I heard loud Jewish music, I knew it had to be that new shul in town!” The mayor of Hillside Township, Dahlia Vertreese, met and socialized with community leaders before addressing more than 200 people to deliver congratulatory remarks in support of the growing Jewish community in Hillside and Elizabeth. Kehilas Sheves Achim is indeed grateful to all its sponsors, including Holy Schnitzel, Tabernacle Restaurant and Palace Caterers.
Kehilas Sheves Achim began as a backyard minyan during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, first moving from a small to a larger tent, equipped with heaters and coffee, which aside from stamina is all one needs to weather the bitter cold winter. Now, a year after its inception, the shul continues to provide dozens of community members with daily minyanim, shiurim, and a weekly newsletter filled with divrei Torah enjoyed by both young and old.
There is a certain attractive element that is integral to the growth of the shul that can perhaps be best summarized by the sagacious and timeless words of the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who delivered the following message approximately 50 years ago at the chanukat habayit of the Talner Shtibel in Brookline, MA, December 16, 1973. “We have here a shul without a power structure, protocol or formalities. I feel at home here. There are no officers, no superiors, no gabbaim in the traditional sense of the word… The more home-like the shul is, the nicer the experience and the more fervent the prayers.” Indeed, many have expressed a similar sentiment when davening at Kehilas Sheves Achim.
Rav Yitzchok Moully, one of the shul’s founders, is an Australian-born Orthodox rabbi affiliated with Chabad-Lubavitch. Rav Moully is known for his “Jewish Pop Art” painting style and had recently founded a network of Orthodox Jewish artists known as The Creative Soul that draws together local Jewish artists with a focus on the creativity of the Jewish spirit. Rav Moully appeared to have channeled the sentiment of Rav Soloveitchik when he approached the podium before the Hillside mayor’s congratulatory remarks, stressing the importance of each Jewish soul, as well as the collective responsibility to foster an environment of warmth, one which continues to be woven into the shul’s social fabric.
The hachnasat sefer Torah was preceded by Kehilas Sheves Achim’s first-ever Shabbat Nachamu scholar-in-residence program, led by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein. Rabbi Weinstein is a best-selling author and recipient of New York’s Hippest Rabbi award by PBS Channel 13. He currently chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at Pratt Institute and resides in Brooklyn, New York, where he advocates for children with special needs. Rabbi Weinstein was an inspiring presence through his delivery of engaging shiurim throughout Shabbat, and tefillah, as usual, was uplifted with joyous singing and dancing. Many returned for the Friday night oneg, which went well into the early morning hour, accompanied by beautiful singing and divrei chizuk. For more information about Hillside, please contact: [email protected].
By Jewish Link Staff