It is in Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel’s head.
Teaneck’s Jewish history, that is.
A former Teaneck resident, he is the director of education for the Destiny Foundation, an educational media organization founded by Rabbi Berel Wein and based in Israel.
But what he cannot get out of his mind is Teaneck’s history. Rabbi Dr. Amsel has yet to write the book chronicling the history of Orthodox Teaneck. He hopes to secure funding and have it in print within two years. Still, Amsel has “everything about the book organized in my head.”
That would include its title “DATI-neck: The Amazing Story of the Birth and Growth of a Unique Orthodox Community.”
“The growth of Teaneck’s Orthodox Jewish community is an amazing story,” he told The Jewish Link. “Seventy years ago or so there were no Orthodox Jews in Teaneck. There’s no other place to my knowledge that could go from having no Orthodox Jews at all to becoming a leading Orthodox community.”
Amsel said he has spent time researching communities within the Five Towns, Monsey and other areas, comparing the Orthodox growth in those places to that in Teaneck.
But Teaneck, he said, was absolutely at Orthodox ground zero; that was until 1953 when Bill and Esther Manischewitz decided to make the town their home. The couple, with four other families, would found Congregation B’nai Yeshurun, Teaneck’s first Orthodox kehillah.
Amsel said that in the 1950s and even 1960s, Teaneck was considered an inconvenient commute from Manhattan.
“Englewood had a community, but few thought of the idea of Orthodox Jews moving from Manhattan to New Jersey. That would change. There were many garden apartments built in Teaneck. Soon young Orthodox Jews were moving or considering the move to Teaneck. This would grow into a Friday-night minyan. Soon, the young adults, mostly young married couples, were buying houses and deciding to stay in Teaneck.”
Amsel said that there were many reasons why Teaneck became a perfect place for Orthodox families to reside. He added that the community has only gotten better with age.
“As more people commuted,” he said, “the secret of Teaneck got out. Teaneck was physically beautiful. Homes were moderately priced. In 1967, my parents paid $42,000 for their house. They sold it for $450,000. So you had moderately priced homes then that were close to the city.”
Here are several of his reasons for Teaneck’s Orthodox growth:
• “It’s the only community I know of where all the rabbis get along.”
• “You don’t move to a synagogue in Teaneck, you move to a community. People feel comfortable in all synagogues. Teaneck is the only town I know where synagogues announce functions of other shuls.”
• “No synagogue ever started because a group of members were mad at their shul.”
• “Seventy-five to 80% of all the men in Teaneck go to shul and daven during the week. That’s unheard of.”
• “Jews in Teaneck are more serious about their learning and davening.”
• “A lot of people rented apartments at first in Teaneck. If you didn’t like Teaneck, you could leave. But families found they’d rather invest and live in Teaneck. As more people moved in, that’s when everything exploded. The community needed a day school and a pizza shop.”
• “Today, people travel from other nearby communities to Teaneck to find a nice kosher restaurant.”
• “In the 1940s, Teaneck was a town of tolerance. In 1958, it became the first school district to desegregate.”
• “There were Orthodox Jews moving in who saw a bright future for the town. They made an effort to be friendly with their non-Jewish neighbors and were in favor of a good public school system even though their kids were attending day schools. The Orthodox paid their taxes to ensure the quality of town and the schools. Jewish people then started gradually getting involved in town politics. Elie Katz became the first Orthodox Jew to be mayor of Teaneck.”
• “In 1982, Teaneck had a big Daf Yomi. SINAI Schools grew, as did Project Ezrah. These are things that Teaneck’s Jewish community did from large to small. A year ago, shuls created a rule that cell phones be kept in small lockers outside of the sanctuary.”
• “There are minyanim for people who are slow at davening. Again, this is a nice idea, and the Teaneck community is doing it. It is a creative idea and it comes from Teaneck and it attracts more people who are creative in leadership. When you attract creative people, good stuff happens.”
• “Another example: Rabbi Yosef Adler who came to Rinat Yisrael in 1979. He is a very serious rav, and that’s what people in Teaneck wanted. Rinat became the model for all other Teaneck shuls...The synagogues have serious rabbis, and the Jews attracted to Teaneck are serious Jews.”
Rabbi Dr. Amsel summed up the story of Teaneck with a memory. He remembers the Manischewitzes walking down the street in the 1970s, and Mr. Manischewitz would comment when he’d see a boy or a man wearing a kippah.
“By the mid-80s while walking on a street in Teaneck,” continued Amsel, “Mr. Manischewitz said, `Look, there’s someone not wearing a kippah.’”