May 15, 2024
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Fair Lawn’s Ahavat Achim Plans Prospective Families Shabbaton, July 28-29

(Courtesy of Ahavat Achim) Following a successful “prospective families shabbaton” in May, Congregation Ahavat Achim invites families who are “community shopping” to a second shabbaton, July 28-29, Shabbat Nachamu, Parshat Va’etchanan.

Ahavat Achim is a diverse, multi-generational and spiritually uplifting community in northeast Fair Lawn with a young cohort that has grown significantly in the past five years. Since COVID, the community has experienced significant growth with respect to both young families moving in and a boom of new babies being born. Alongside these new parent members are older and younger members of the community who act as surrogate cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, dispensing smiles and Shabbat treats, and sharing or joining Shabbat meals.

“After renting for a year during COVID, the genuine friendships across generations was one of the top reasons we chose to buy a house and plant our roots here,” said Elianna Kaplowitz, one of the COVID arrivals and now co-chair of the shul’s programming committee.

One of the shul’s veteran members, Melanie Kwestel, agreed. “When we moved in almost 40 years ago, we were enveloped by the people of Ahavat Achim. We raised our children here, and now that they are grown, we are excited to see the next generation take its place. We fell in love with the diversity we found in this congregation. Everyone can find a home at Ahavat Achim, and I’m heartened that this spirit continues so many years later.”

Rabbi Ely Shestack, the shul’s dynamic leader, added, “This community offers something rare if not unique in the tapestry of Bergen County. Ahavat Achim is a shul that prides itself on being a place of authentic and engaging Torah Judaism that is committed to being approachable to all those looking for an Orthodox community.”

On May 5-6, Ahavat Achim welcomed six visiting families for a shabbaton designed to allow visitors to meet members and experience the unique culture of Ahavat Achim. “We have never been to a more friendly, welcoming and warm place,” said one couple, who, along with two others from the shabbaton, is now actively shopping for a home in the area. Echoing the intergenerational sentiment, another visitor shared, “One of the things we really enjoyed was how all of the generations hung out and mingled together.”

“There’s no better way to discover how much you’re going to like living in northeast Fair Lawn than to experience a Shabbat with us,” said Jay Herman, who is one of the organizers of the event. Herman and his family are transplants from New York City, and among the growing group of young families who are bullish about the synagogue and the community.

“For a few years before and during COVID we were in a stalemate on where to move. We wanted to be close to schools, restaurants, etc. in Bergen County, but our style is more the ‘out of town’ feel where everyone knows everyone and where we feel needed. We found exactly that at Ahavat Achim where, just two years in, we feel comfortable chatting with literally anyone at kiddush, and we’re involved in a number of initiatives. Since we’ve been here, Ahavat Achim is really integrated in our lives, as we are into the life of the synagogue.”

Ahavat Achim has been growing through word-of-mouth, and in keeping with the atmosphere of the shul, organizers decided to have two smaller shabbatonim, rather than one large event. Looking ahead to July 28-29, organizers are hoping to replicate their May success with Shabbat Nachamu.

Visiting families will be matched with host families who can share the ups and downs of day care, school and camp options, commutes (30-35 minutes to Port Authority or Penn Station), and reviews of the local kosher sushi, pizza, shawarma, and Fair Lawn’s famous Zadie’s Bakery. Shabbat morning, visitors with children are welcome to experience the Parent & Me Tot Shabbat program or groups, ending with all children leading the congregation for a resounding Adon Olam. A festive kiddush following davening will give guests a chance to meet the larger membership and experience the warmth endemic to Ahavat Achim life. After lunch and a bit of Shabbat menucha, a backyard “Stay & Play” for children under 12 and their parents will give attendees the opportunity to socialize with young Ahavat Achim families in an informal setting. Seudah shlishit will feature zemirot and words of Torah led by Rabbi Shestack.

“We know for families the shabbaton is the beginning of a journey, not a to-do that you check off your list and then start shopping,” said Sara Santacruz, another shabbaton organizer. “The decision of where to plant roots, and which community has just the right people to carry you and your children through life’s smachot and hardships, is a very personal one, and our goal is to help families find the right place for them.”

For more information about the shabbaton, northeast Fair Lawn and Ahavat Achim, contact [email protected], or RSVP for the shabbaton at https://tinyurl.com/NFLShabbaton2023

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