June 17, 2024
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Congregation Darchei Noam Celebrates 13th Annual Dinner

A shul reflects on its humble beginnings and plans for the future.

Fair Lawn’s Congregation Darchei Noam is at an inflection point as it gears up for its 13th annual dinner next month. The shul, which was founded in 2006 with fewer than 15 families, is now pushing 200 families and is quickly outgrowing its space in a converted house on Alexander Avenue.

This year’s dinner honors two couples who were essential to the shul’s explosive growth—Moreh D’asrah Rabbi Jeremy and Yoetzet Halacha Dr. Shira Donath, and their close friends President Emeritus Rabbi Ari and Chavi Diamond.

Rabbi Donath joined the shul as its first spiritual leader in 2011. At the time, he was a bachelor fresh out of semicha. Shira Donath accompanied the rabbi often that first year, but only formally joined the shul a year later upon their marriage, and the couple now have four children. Rabbi Donath sees his own family as emblematic of the shul as a whole. “I watched my family grow parallel to the growth of the shul, and having attracted members in a similar age range with young children initially, our kids have grown up alongside the other kids of the shul,” he said.

Recognizing a need to better support the women of the community, Shira Donath pursued her training as a yoetzet halacha, and completed the course in 2015. She also uses her background as a psychologist to provide support to community members in need. “Shira does so much behind the scenes that most people don’t even know about,” Rabbi Donath said.

Rabbi Donath’s co-honoree, Ari Diamond, met Rabbi Donath when they were both post-high school students at Yeshivat Shaalvim in Israel. They immediately became fast friends. “The rabbi told me at the time that he wanted to be a pulpit rabbi,” Ari recalled. “I told him I’d be his first congregant.”

Ari was true to his word, and he and Chavi moved to Fair Lawn in 2013 shortly after Rabbi Donath took Darchei Noam’s helm. The two families vacationed together and raised their kids alongside one another. The Diamonds were one of the first of a new generation of younger families to settle in Fair Lawn and were instrumental in working with the Donaths to build an attractive and welcoming community for other young families. “We are stunned by how much the community has grown since we moved here,” Ari said.

Ari served as Darchei Noam’s president from 2021 until 2023. In addition to the shul’s explosive growth, he and Rabbi Donath navigated COVID and onboarded the new rosh beit midrash, Rabbi Shua Katz, during that time. At the same time, Chavi took an active role not only in the shul but in strengthening local schools and mikvaot. “The Diamonds are always working to serve the interests of the community,” Shira remarked. “All while shying away from public recognition.”

“During the last four years, including Ari’s tenure, it felt that this was the time period when the newer generation in the shul stepped up and took ownership,” Rabbi Donath said. “The shul went from what resembled a startup to a sophisticated operation with a plethora of programs and committees.”

Current President Daniel Abraham concurs. He took over from Ari as president in 2023 when the shul was already at a more developed stage in its evolution. “Ari was president during a transition period when the shul was managing its growth and implementing more official processes,” Abraham explained. “I am standing on the shoulders of their hard work to ensure that it all runs smoothly.”

The dinner will also have a bittersweet quality, as the Diamonds are planning to make aliyah this August. As excited as they are to start their new life in Israel, the family is saddened to leave behind their friends and the shul they helped build. “This community is our family,” Chavi said. “Fair Lawn is a very special place, with a low-key character that is difficult to replicate.”

Indeed, the neighborhood’s unpretentious nature is a big part of its appeal. Dinner Chair Simi Spector moved to Fair Lawn from Brooklyn in 2018, sight unseen, with her husband, Dani, and their children. In Brooklyn, the Spectors were accustomed to rabbis who were older and less approachable. Simi was therefore shocked when she met the rabbi at a Shabbat meal with kids the same age as hers. Afterwards, they all took their kids to the park. “The Donaths are our neighbors, and seeing the rabbi play with his kids and really integrate with the other young families is a big reason why Darchei feels so welcoming,” she said.

Simi recalled that during COVID, Rabbi Donath called the Spectors to check in on them after not seeing them for a while. “The fact that the rabbi of our shul thought to do that was eye-opening.”

As Darchei Noam’s reputation for warmth and neighborliness has spread, the shul has found itself short on space. “We’ve made it work thus far due to our multiplicity of minyanim and shiurim spread throughout the week,” explained Rabbi Donath, “but the kids in shul are getting to the age when they are going to want to daven inside with their parents, and the current space can’t host the upcoming wave of bar/bat mitzvahs and other simchas.”

In addition to a larger sanctuary space, the congregation also needs to expand its social hall to accommodate the growing number of smachot among the membership. To that end, the shul purchased the house next door and is currently engaged in an effort to raise the funds for an expansion. Shul leadership is hopeful about raising the money necessary to allow the community to continue to flourish.

“This dinner is a reflection of all we have accomplished in the past 13 years, with Hashem’s help” Rabbi Donath said, “and it is a celebration of all we hope the shul will continue to become in the future.”

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