Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A shul with over 100 years of history by the Jersey Shore is experiencing quite a revival.

Congregation Agudath Achim in Bradley Beach was established in September 1923 as an Orthodox shul and has continued to operate since then. As current shul president Dr. Len Bielory states, the shul was known for many decades as the premier outpost for Jewish life on the Jersey Shore, leading the town to be nicknamed “Bagel Beach” and to be referenced in Philip Roth novels. Yet the allure of the shul began to fade in the 1980s.

For many years, the shul weathered a decline in participation and membership. But as the shul’s rav, Rabbi Maury Kelman, reports to The Jewish Link, in the past year-plus, the shul has seen a heartwarming uptick in activity year-round and an influx of new members.

Rabbi Kelman has semicha from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and started in his role at Congregation Agudath Achim in 2016, when it was a summer synagogue. Though he lives year-round in Jerusalem, Rabbi Kelman took residence in Bradley Beach for the past year (on the request of the shul’s board) in order to create a year-round minyan, which has come together quite well.

In addition to his service to the shul, Rabbi Kelman teaches at the Hillel Yeshiva, does part-time legal work, and oversees two Jewish nonprofits he founded—Kedma, a Jewish student group in Israel and abroad, and Route 613, a halachic conversion program that has facilitated over 300 conversions, all online, since the pandemic.

As a result of a small migration of new full-time Jewish families to the Bradley Beach area, lots of outreach work by the rabbi in neighboring towns such as Avon and Belmar with much help from volunteers such as Ari and Alaethia Blech, and increased attention to those who don’t identify as Orthodox, the shul has been able to successfully conduct previously ‘out of season’ Jewish events. These include:

An outdoor Chanukah event featured an outdoor menorah lighting of an ice-menorah;

A Megillah reading on Purim, with a seudah afterwards, that attracted a crowd. The shul’s new Chesed Committee delivered shalach manot to 50 area families;

A Challah bake in March that drew 30 area women, some of whom reported that they’d never been in the shul before.

In the non-summer months, the shul now regularly offers a weekly sit-down kiddush and lunch, followed by interactive learning, which persuades a sizable crowd to spend a nice chunk of their Shabbat day at Congregation Agudath Achim. Rabbi Kelman reported: “During the summer months, when attendance rises to well over 100 people, the shul offers musical Kabbalat Shabbos services on the beach, Torah in the Backyard on Shabbos afternoons, Havdala in the Gazebo, and more. We’ll be hosting an upcoming play reading and many other programs, designed for Jews of all backgrounds.”

The shul has also expanded on its regular seasonal programming, while demonstrating resilience to current concerns. In the fall of 2021, Congregation Agudath Achim cooperated with the local Sephardic shul, Magen David, to hold a tent minyan overlooking the ocean for the Chaggim. Rabbi Kelman described the efforts as a success and a “big Kiddush Hashem.”Additionally, the shul offered a ‘Shofar in the Park’ event so all who were interested but might not have made it to shul could hear all the shofar blasts; 100 or more people attended.

One of the newer full-time members of the shul, Ralph Mishan, moved to Bradley Beach with his wife Marta permanently earlier this year. He previously owned a metal casing company in Elizabeth. Mishan cited the “recent influx of new full-time residents” and “a new group of people who are concerned about the shul” with the recent growth of the shul. The Mishans have been affiliated with the shul, “on and off,” for 30 years.

Barbara Bascom, a retired municipal clerk and township administrator who serves as the shul’s historian, the 50/50 raffle coordinator and chair of the cemetery committee, has been a member of the shul since 1964. She, too, noted the influx of summer residents who are now retiring and moving to live in the area full time. Asked to name a favorite program at the shul, she identified the Purim party.

Dr. Bielory, the shul president, stated: “Rabbi Kelman is doing a wonderful job and conducting a strong outreach effort. He is offering a variety of services and rebuilding the Jewish community in the area.”

Bette Epstein, who lives with her husband Edward in Highland Park and spends summer weekends with him in Bradley Beach, shared: “Rabbi Kelman is very friendly and outgoing. He is doing lots of outreach and has lots of programming going on.” Asked to name a favorite recent program at the shul, she spoke highly of the Havdalah in the Gazebo event.

For more information on Congregation Agudath Achim, please visit their website at www.bradleybeachshul.org or call the shul office at 732.774.2495.

Harry Glazer would like to hear your suggestions for other news stories. He can be reached at
[email protected]

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