Congregation Darchei Noam in Fair Lawn has been undergoing a growth spurt in recent years, and their next step is appointing Rabbi Shua Katz to the position of rosh beit midrash. “I am incredibly excited to join the Darchei Noam community,” said Rabbi Katz, currently a member of the Wexner Kollel Elyon at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) at Yeshiva University (YU). “The dedication and passion of Rabbi (Jeremy) Donath and lay leadership, as well as the warmth and cohesiveness of the shul are palpable to all who visit.”
Rabbi Katz grew up in Teaneck and attended the Torah Academy of Bergen County before moving on to Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel and YU. After studying under and serving as shiur assistant for Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, Rabbi Katz completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at YU and a master’s degree in Jewish philosophy at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He also previously served as the rabbinic intern at the Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton.
“As rosh beit midrash, I look forward to spearheading a wide array of learning opportunities and experiences and to building relationships that further advance and deepen the already inspiring growth atmosphere at Darchei Noam,” Rabbi Katz said.
“To me, it’s very important to have someone who is very kind and down-to-earth, in addition to being an aspiring and budding talmid chacham,” said Rabbi Donath about the new position. “We wanted someone who would help others grow in their yiddishkeit and learning. We are really looking forward to Rabbi Katz taking the shul to a new level.”
Rabbi Katz will supplement Darchei Noam’s very active schedule of scholars in residence in an effort to expand the Torah learning options that the shul offers to the membership.
This year will bring many changes for the Katz family, who moved to Fair Lawn just under a year ago. Rabbi Katz has also accepted a position as a bekius rebbe at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck. His wife, Bracha, will be a school psychologist at Yeshivat Shalshelet, a yeshiva day school for students with language-based learning differences that is set to open in the fall of 2022.
Starting out with just 16 families in 2006, Darchei Noam had more than doubled in size, but was still a small congregation without a rabbi in 2012. At the time, the shul was almost entirely made up of members whose children had already left home. That is when they decided to make the unconventional decision to choose the 26-year-old, unmarried Rabbi Jeremy Donath to lead the shul.
Rabbi Donath is originally from Minneapolis and went to the Skokie Yeshiva for high school before continuing on to Yeshivat Sha’alvim in Israel and then to YU, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Jewish history, a master’s degree in education from the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, and his semicha from RIETS.
“I was given a one-year contract and I was told, ‘You can live in Washington Heights for a year, and by the end of this year you’re going to be married and living in Fair Lawn’,” Rabbi Donath recalled. “I signed the contract and I met Shira a couple of months later.”
Rebbetzin and Yoetzet Halacha Shira Donath is originally from St. Louis. She attended Michlalah in Israel followed by Stern College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is a graduate of Nishmat’s Yoetzet Halacha program and is a great presence and resource for the women of Darchei Noam. She fields halachic questions on a variety of topics from women throughout Fair Lawn.
Throughout the Donaths’ tenure, the shul has grown quite a bit. Membership doubled in their first five-to-six years in Fair Lawn as the age of the rabbi and rebbetzin started drawing in some younger families. At that point, Darchei Noam had started to gain a reputation as a welcoming place for those looking for a slightly more relaxed social atmosphere and a community that was still easily within a radius that allowed commuting to the metropolitan area. In the last five years, Darchei Noam has doubled its membership yet again, including adding around 50 families since the onset of COVID-19.
One of the bigger features of the last four years has been the presence of Rabbi Robbie and Ora Schrier. As a precursor to the role that Rabbi Katz is taking on, the Schriers were resident scholars at Darchei Noam and would visit for Shabbat about once every three weeks. The Schriers are making aliyah to Mishkafayim in Ramat Beit Shemesh as Rabbi Schrier has accepted a position as a rebbe at Yeshivat Sha’arei Mevaseret Zion in the fall.
“I am immensely thrilled that the Darchei community has chosen Rabbi Shua Katz as its new rosh beis medrash,” Rabbi Schrier said about the shul’s new addition, “Rabbi Katz is a distinguished talmid chacham and an incredible teacher who brings an arsenal of immense Torah knowledge into every shiur and discussion. He also is a true mensch; his humility, sensitivity and passion for serving Klal Yisroel make him a perfect fit for Darchei Noam.”
In fact, Rabbi Schrier was instrumental in Rabbi Katz’s selection, as they are both currently members of the Wexner Kollel Elyon at RIETS. Rabbi Donath was happy to take input from Rabbi Schrier when selecting someone to join Darchei Noam.
“Rabbi Schrier is a tremendous talmid chacham and he’s sincere, genuine, and passionate,” Rabbi Donath said of his departing colleague. “Any institution that was going to get him was going to be so lucky. We are grateful that we had four years with him and I’m excited for the next step in his development. Every time I got to hear Rabbi Schrier, I felt like he was teaching me and inspiring me.”
A rosh beit midrash is not the only recent addition to Darchei Noam. This year also saw the founding of the Darchei Noam Sisterhood to complement the learning programs for women that were already in place.
“As the community continues to grow it’s getting harder to meet everyone at shul in just the short time that we all spend together during those morning hours while also chasing our kids and making sure they have enough kugel, cholent or whatever kiddush item they are crying for,” said Sisterhood President Simi Spector. “The sisterhood was born on the idea of giving women a chance to get together, hang out, meet each other, and really just have some adult time without any other responsibility.”
With such a mass of young families, it’s infrequent for a few weeks to go by without the men of the shul having a Friday night gathering for a shalom zachor or a tisch of some kind. In addition, the men are starting to hold some of their own events. One recent outing featured a Saturday night of pool, ping pong and party food.
Given the current demographics of the shul, youth events are virtually constant. A Shlock Rock concert was a particularly big hit in recent months, as was the first Darchei Noam youth shabbaton. The shabbaton featured a whole Shabbat full of youth events that brought the community together and both reminded parents of the atmosphere before COVID, while also clearly featuring the population growth that has occurred since.
Darchei Noam looks to add even more youth programming in the future. They continue their search for a youth director to make that vision truly come together.
“With so much going on at Darchei Noam these days, our goal is for there to truly be something for every member of the community,” Darchei Noam President Ari Diamond said. “It’s so amazing to be a part of a shul that is really taking off, and I can’t wait to see what it’ll look like in five or 10 years from now.”
Nati Burnside lives in Fair Lawn and is a man of many interests. You can contact him at [email protected]