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A New Shul Sparks a Community Event

Something very special is afoot in the Elizabeth/Hillside community, and a sizable crowd came out to enjoy the achdut and camaraderie on Sunday, November 21 at the Union YM-YWHA. Originally planned as a membership event for Kehilas Shevas Achim, a new shul in the community, plans transformed and expanded into a full-fledged, community-wide kumzitz featuring Zusha.

The event was spearheaded by Mordy Plotsker, Nafi Baum and Yehuda Schupper; Plotsker said he was blown away by the response, and by the participation and cooperation of so many people and the other shuls. Plotsker’s idea was to create and coordinate the concert and other activities, and engage other community institutions by working together to design an event that would be appealing to everyone of all ages and persuasions.

Although a “new shul in town” is sometimes a challenge to a community, Plotsker feels this could be a paradigm for how both continuity and diversity can coexist in a previously well-defined Orthodox communal system. He identified his role model as his father, a’h, who said to “always see the good in others.”

Plotsker, who davens regularly at a different shul but splits his time on Shabbat, aspires to convey a positive message that promotes unity as well as diversity. He explained: “Kehilas Shevas Achim is a welcoming shul where everyone, including Sephardic, Chasidic and Modern Orthodox, are free to join together and enjoy a warm religious experience, in a heimishe, shtiebel-type of atmosphere. The highlight of the week can be best exemplified by various members sharing an interesting Torah thought with the kehila on Friday night to the singing and dancing of ‘Lecha Dodi’ around the bima, which always takes the congregants away in song.

“I look forward to Shabbos all week, and it is so refreshing to experience the dancing and simchat hachaim on Friday night,” said one community member.

The shul provides a weekly minyan (nusach Ari), a newsletter replete with divrei Torah for both young and old, youth programming for children, a warm sit-down family-style hot kiddush following davening, and engaging shiurim before and after Shabbat Mincha on the parsha and Hilchot Shabbat.

Plosker also noted that Hillside and Elizabeth boast affordable homes and a strong sense of community which makes them an attractive and inviting place to raise a family. It has long been a place where people know each other, get along and join together in each other’s smachot, factors that are the bedrock of these communities, bonded by the longstanding foundation which is The JEC.

“We are poised for growth and community expansion,” said Plotsker, “and we welcome you to come spend Shabbos in our community.”

Asked what inspired the concert by Zusha, Plotsker said: “Initially, we imagined a small gathering but were swept away by the overwhelming interest in an event that can bring together the diversity of the growing community. Zusha was the perfect fit as it filled the strong desire by community members to create an event that [would be] family oriented, at a convenient time on a Sunday, while also catering to the culinary appeal of the delicious food offered by Izzy’s of Crown Heights.” The Izzy’s food truck was a hive of activity during the event.

Zusha also weighed in with their own objectives in performing a concert for the community, with their focus on “music for the soul,” according to manager Paltiel Ratzenberg. He added that Zusha’s overarching hope is to be relatable to all Jews, whether affiliated or non-affiliated, as well as the non-Jewish music listener. “We seek to inspire through song.”

The successful concert saw audience members spontaneously dancing right in front of the band, which performed intentionally at ground level instead of onstage. In fact, the band joined in with the dancing and performed some special pieces especially for the children, who were enthralled by the band members dancing and singing with them.

By Ellie Wolf

 

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