Every organization has a desire to grow. Whether that means reaching more people, making more money, offering more services etc., a thriving organization is a growing organization. Congregation Darchei Noam, located in Fair Lawn, is a thriving synagogue, and they recently completed a major renovation.
As part of Darchei Noam’s renovation, they increased seating by more than 100%, built a new social hall and kitchen and expanded the areas available for programming. The renovation also included a beautification project for the building, sanctuary and new facilities. The renovation was necessitated by their expanding membership, which has been growing at a high rate.
Rabbi Jeremy Donath became the spiritual leader of Darchei Noam in September of 2010. Rabbi Donath thought about growth before he even began serving as the shul’s rabbi: “When I first heard about the shul and saw a picture of the sanctuary, I thought it would be way too small and could not sustain growth.” However, it is the significant growth in its membership that Darchei Noam has seen in the last two years that has necessitated the expansion. Abe Adler, who along with his wife is one of the founding members of the shul, says, “Due to the shul’s growth, we have become cramped in the sanctuary. On many holidays and Shabbosim, there isn’t an extra seat to spare.” In addition to the added space, the renovated sanctuary will feature higher ceilings and additional windows, which will bring in more light and give it more of a sanctuary feel.
For Liz Glasser, who, along with her husband, began attending Darchei Noam three years ago, the new sanctuary is exciting. “Synagogues have a lot of services but fulfilling spiritual need is the defining characteristic. I’m excited to daven in the new sanctuary.”
Mark Moerdler, who is a founding member of the shul and its president, believes the renovation will enable the shul to better serve the congregation and the greater Fair Lawn community both now and in the future. “The renovation is a huge step up, and we are now better positioned to serve the community.” Prior to the expansion, Darchei Noam was unable to host some basic life-cycle events. Rabbi Donath said, “Congregants should be able to have their basic life-cycle events in our shul. We couldn’t host a bris or a sheva brachos in the old building. The expansion provides a functional space for members to call this home and host all of their events.”
Anyone who has been involved in a renovation knows the process can be a challenge. For Darchei Noam the issues with renovating were relatively few. Moerdler praised the membership, town and builder for making the process relatively smooth. “RDL Homes had a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude and have been a pleasure to work with. The town of Fair Lawn was extremely responsive and helpful throughout the process. Many members made contributions and more continue to do so.”
For a shul to function, it needs to offer services. Adler was involved in facilitating temporary operations. During the renovation, Darchei Noam met at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center on Shabbos morning. Evening services and Sunday morning shacharis were held at Anshei Lubavitch, who were incredibly hospitable. When the congregation contacted Rabbi Neubort, Anshei greeted them with open arms. Shacharit during the week was at a member’s house. Glasser believes the challenges of the move had a positive effect on congregants, “It brought the shul together in many ways because we were working towards a nice goal that is so necessary.”
While the current needs for the renovation are clear, it ultimately is about the future. According to Glasser, the shul has a “growth mindset,” and the renovation is part of that. Rabbi Donath believes that Fair Lawn has become a destination for young families looking for a place with all of the amenities of Bergen County, while still being affordable. However, he also believes that there is potential for greater expansion “As exciting as the growth of Fair Lawn is, there’s room for so much more. The renovation is about the current families and to encourage more to come to Fair Lawn and buy a home here.”
While the focus is on the future, the older generation is excited about the renovated shul as well. Speaking on behalf of the founders, Adler said, “Those of us who have been with the shul for 10 years are excited about how the shul and the community continue to grow.” Moerdler added, “We built it for the next generation, and people have stepped up.” Rabbi Donath recognizes and appreciates the efforts and mindset of its founding members. He says of the shul leaders, “We are blessed with lay leadership that saw this major renovation as a worthwhile investment in the future. They did this for the greater Fair Lawn community, in order to mostly service the next generation.”
The members of Darchei Noam are excited about their renovated building. They hope that their community will continue to grow and appreciate the wonderful new amenities that the renovation offers. To come check out the community or for more information, please see the shul’s website at darcheinoam.com.
By Larry Bernstein
Larry Bernstein is a freelance writer based in Bergen County. To learn more about his services, visit http://larrydbernstein.com.