April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Communities Continue to Grow in the Age of Coronavirus

Communities throughout New Jersey are developing innovative ways to host prospective residents while maintaining social distance requirements. With restrictions that preclude Shabbat guests or house visitors, experiencing a community under lockdown is virtually impossible physically, yet with a bit of creativity, it is possible virtually.

On Shabbat, March 6-7, the West Orange community was set to host over 20 families looking forward to discovering West Orange as a potential new home. Forced to cancel due to COVID-19, they are finding new ways to virtually open their homes, shuls and community to those who want to learn more about West Orange.

As we adjust to the new normal, the entire community is doing its best to make life a bit easier. All local shuls are offering regular Zoom programming, including davening, Daf Yomi, other shiurim, youth programming and even scholars-in-residence. Local stores such as Aron’s West Orange, Ruben’s Glatt Spot, Glatt Fusion and the West Orange Bake Shop have adjusted their hours to make things as convenient as possible and some are offering delivery or curbside pickup.

At the same time, the demand to learn more about the community is on the rise, especially with a new school year around the corner. In order to meet the demand, West Orange marketing committee chairs and shabbaton co-leads Esti Buskin and Mike Diamond are turning to virtual platforms to enable prospective new residents to experience West Orange. Buskin is taking regular phone calls from prospective families and is always happy to answer questions or offer a virtual meeting. Additionally, in the coming weeks, the community will be hosting virtual information sessions via Zoom to provide opportunities for prospective families to meet various members of the community, rabbis and school officials. Local schools JKHA/RKYHS and JEC/Bruriah are offering virtual tours.

If you are interested in joining one of the Discover West Orange information sessions via Zoom, please email [email protected] or visit www.discoverwestorange.com

In nearby Linden, New Jersey, they are facing similar challenges as they try to connect with potential new residents. Linden is an affordable, welcoming, “small town feel” community in the metro-New York City area, with the peaceful comforts of suburbia and all the amenities of larger Jewish communities. It is one of the most centrally located cities in New Jersey: a half hour from Teaneck, Brooklyn, New York City and many universities and work hubs. Linden has become a popular choice for young couples and families looking to settle down in a modern Orthodox community and grow their careers and families in a cost-effective way.

Because of COVID-19, Congregation Anshe Chesed was forced to postpone its annual shabbaton indefinitely and cannot host prospective couples for Shabbat. The shul has arranged Zoom introduction calls to offer those interested in learning about the community a chance to ask questions. Even during this challenging time, there are couples continuing with the house-buying process.

With some of the most affordable housing in New Jersey, and interest rates at a historic low, Linden continues to be an attractive Orthodox community for young families starting out. If you would like more information, please email [email protected].

Springfield, New Jersey, located 30 minutes west of Bergen County, has devised a COVID-friendly way to welcome newcomers who want to “visit” the community.

Ariella and Eric Bloom moved to Springfield four years ago and are excited about the consistent growth in the community. “Choosing a community can be a tough decision,” said Ariella, who grew up in Teaneck. “In Springfield you could be who you are,” she said, adding that diversity is welcome and people who settle in Springfield instantly feel a sense of warmth and belonging.

Ariella, along with her friend Debbie Shteingart, are co-chairs of the membership committee at Congregation Israel of Springfield. Together they have developed a system that allows people to visit the town and engage with community members, including the rabbi, from a distance. “Because of COVID-19 we were forced to figure out new ways to introduce our flourishing community to people,” said Bloom. “To that end, we have created a sort of scavenger hunt to help visitors get a feel for what Springfield is all about.”

“As a young couple looking to move this summer, we were very uncertain how we would find a community,” said Malka and Asher Young, who currently live in Kew Gardens Hills. “One of the communities at the top of our list was Springfield, and we connected with Ariella Bloom via the OU Community Fair. Although we were unable to come for Shabbos, Ariella set us up with a completely unique and innovative opportunity: a chance to visit through social distancing.”

The Youngs said that in the span of two hours they met eight different families in Springfield. “The families had time to spend with us and answer all of our questions and no one was rushed. We shared laughs and stories, and really felt connected to Springfield by the time we were done visiting! Social distance visits are strangely enough a tremendous way to really meet families and form those one-on-one connections!”

Bloom and Shteingart not only work with couples who want to visit Springfield, they also help them transition into the community once they move in, hosting events throughout the year to foster community relations.

Besides a thriving shul, residents of Springfield enjoy the typical amenities other modern Orthodox communities offer, including an eruv, mikvah and kosher dining. Springfield is also home to a newly opened Kosher Krispy Kreme Donut store, a popular stop for most visitors. Part of the greater MetroWest community, Springfield offers financial incentives to younger couples who choose to settle there.

To learn more about the community online, please visit its Facebook page at Congregation Israel of Springfield or on Instagram @CongregationIsrael. If you would like to visit Springfield, please email [email protected] or fill out the form at https://forms.gle/5kbDRdMXsbcjtGgs7.

By Andrea Nissel

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