Adath Jeshurun, colloquially and affectionately known as the Murray Street Shul in Elizabeth, well predates the current Orthodox Jewish community and the other established institutions in the geographical Hillside/Elizabeth area as we know them today. Adath Jeshurun, officially incorporated in 1921, is the oldest operating synagogue in Elizabeth, and one of the oldest—if not the oldest—in New Jersey, according to its historical records.
In its earliest beginnings the congregation was housed in the Elizabeth YM-YWHA building. Later in 1927, the property, located at 200 Murray Street (its current location) was purchased by the synagogue’s first president, Henry P. Nelson. Nelson then deeded the house and land to the congregation for one dollar. Until the present day, that same house has remained the home of Adath Jeshurun, with its current membership of about 30 member families, many of whom represent several consecutive generations of family members.
The Murray Street Shul is blessed with a devoted corps of members who have also taken upon themselves to maintain the structural needs of the shul on a volunteer basis. As a structure that already existed 100 years ago at the time of purchase, the shul has undergone several renovations and layers of remodeling. The shul has remained as an independent entity for its entire history, serving the community continuously for a century, despite offers to merge or consolidate with other congregations.
Annual membership is $50—yes, you read correctly—and the shul thrives primarily on donations from multigenerational members and longtime friends. “We never want anyone to think they can’t attend services because of financial constraints. Our goal is for everyone to feel welcome, no matter their finances,” said Rabbi Shmuel Burnstein.
Until 1939, the congregation’s records were actually in Yiddish, before finally changing over to English. The shul also housed a Talmud Torah until the JEC organized its educational system in Elizabeth during the 1940s. Adath Jeshurun has been involved in numerous charitable causes including the United Jewish Appeal, the Anti-Nazi League, the Jewish Educational Center of Elizabeth, Ezras Torah, Magen Dovid Adom, Kulanu Yachad and many others. The shul worked with the Jewish War Veterans and other Jewish organizations, contributing several thousand dollars towards the purchase of six aircraft bombers during World War II.
Despite periods of great challenge, including lapses in financial stability, numerous necessary repairs and renovation, merger proposals and a fire that destroyed much of its records and documentation, the Murray Street Shul has been a true renaissance organization, serviing its varied and devoted congregants for a century.
So last week’s One Hundredth Anniversary Dinner was a celebration of endurance, survival, victory and success for Adath Jeshurun. The shul is thriving, and the current rabbi and president, Rabbi Shmuel Burnstein, who succeeds his father, Rabbi Yitzchak Burnstein, couldn’t be happier or more proud.
While his father turned over the reins after serving for over 30 years, Rabbi Burnstein explained: “I always value and have in mind my father’s approach to leading our shul and being a mensch. In that way, he continues to guide our shul.” Rabbi Burnstein added that he gradually assumed more responsibility beginning in 2010, finally assuming most of the rabbinic duties by 2016.
The shul celebrated in style at the YM-YWHA of Union County with a gala dinner attended by about 120 people. Rav Eliyahu Meir Teitz, Rav Ha-ir of Elizabeth, gave opening remarks including historical background along with his well wishes and bracha for its continued success. Rabbi Burnstein provided an overview of the shul’s history, highlighting the deep devotion of the membership across the epoch of a century, and noting the special presence of their most senior member, Roslyn Schwartzberg, who shares in the distinction of being a centenarian herself.
Dinner guests enjoyed displays of the shul’s structural history, a slide show bridging the past to the present, and an awards ceremony recognizing extraordinary contributions to the operation of the shul, including three children: Aharon, Yehudis and Avraham Hershkowitz. The Goodman family, devoted members who recently moved to Colombia to care for elderly parents, even returned for the centennial celebration. They continue to participate in shiurim via Zoom.
The dinner buffet was provided by Majestic Caterers, bolstered by a bountiful fruit and bakery dessert spread and capped with a beautiful Chanukah bencher for each guest, and an exciting raffle.
By Ellie Wolf