Is it possible to live in Teaneck and still get that small-town feeling? Well, the members of Ohr Saadya believe it is and pride themselves that their shul exudes the warmth and friendliness that one associates with a small town. Founded in 2007, this Queen Anne Road shul, located half a mile south of Cedar Lane, is the southernmost shul in Teaneck.
It was that accessibility that attracted Rachel Cyrulnik and her family to Ohr Saadya. “It has the warmth and out-of-town feel with the amenities of a large town. It’s the perfect place for those who worry about being another face in the crowd.”
The welcoming feel emanates from Rabbi Daniel Feldman. Rabbi Feldman, who grew up in Teaneck, is the son of the long-time rabbi of beloved Teaneck Jewish Center Rabbi David Feldman z”l. He is a Rosh Yeshiva at YU, and has written two books about the interpersonal principles in Jewish law. He sees this as a crucially important aspect of Torah that is often underappreciated. However, Rabbi Feldman attempts to remind shul members of the importance of warmth and sensitivity in his drashas. He said, “I hope that the congregation can come away with something to think about and use toward becoming a more sensitive and spiritual personality.” Rabbi Feldman believes that the shul’s location near Holy Name Hospital and the CareOne Nursing Home and the relationship the shul has with the facilities (Ohr Saadya holds minyanim during the week at CareOne) has helped to build a strong awareness of people’s needs. Rabbi Feldman also offers a Gemara shiur every Thursday evening.
Rabbi Doctor Zalman Levine appreciates the lessons that Rabbi Feldman offers. He and his family have been at Ohr Saadya since the shul’s building purchase eight years ago, and have been davening with Rabbi Feldman since even before that, when he led a minyan at the Teaneck Jewish Center. Levine views the rabbi as a person of great integrity and a tremendous Talmud Chacham. Of the shul: “I appreciate the warmth. The community is close knit and everybody knows and is friendly with everybody else.” One aspect of the community that particularly excites Levine is its youth. “Seeing all the young people in the shul is inspiring. I’m looking forward to the future of the shul.”
That bright future is also what attracted Kevin and Jen Lipstein. The Lipsteins, who describe the shul as “super-friendly,” were living in the Teaneck Apartments when they walked over to the shul to daven and to have lunch at the home of friends. Kevin said, “People came over to us because they saw a new face. They were warm and open.” Jen adds, “On our first Shabbos here, somebody stopped me on the way to shul. She heard a new family moved in and wanted to welcome me.” The Lipsteins were looking for a shul where they could meet people whom they could imagine associating with and hanging out with outside of shul, and this fit the bill.
Josh Weinberg and his family were reluctant to move to Teaneck, fearing that the size of the community would be overwhelming. They wanted a smaller shul they thought couldn’t be found in Teaneck. However, a visit to Ohr Saadya changed everything. “It’s warm and welcoming with a small-town feel.”
The small shul has also allowed Weinberg and his wife, Sara, to get involved. Weinberg, the current president of Ohr Saadya, describes himself and his wife, the programming co-chair for the last two years, as the type of people who enjoy getting involved. Josh believes, “One of the best ways to make people feel welcomed and a part of a shul family is to get them involved—whether it is chairing a committee, running an event or even just actively participating in the many programs the shul offers, it is my hope that people will find their own way to engage.”
If you are the type of family who has a pioneering spirit and is ready to help build then Ohr Saadya is exactly the right place for you, said Levine. “There’s a spirit among many of the members of rolling up our sleeves and being willing to do what it takes to work out.” Levine and his wife do various things for the shul. Among the things Levine does are coordinating laining, putting together the zman calendar and running an all-night Shavuot program for children. His wife is part of the chesed committee. Kevin helps with Kiddush and Jen helps with programming. Rachel is on the shul board and was the programming co-chair for 2.5 years.
Just how small is this small shul? Well according to Josh there are approximately 65 full-member families and 10 associates. This “small for Teaneck” shul still offers diversity. The children in the shul represent all the schools in the area yet they all play with each other on Shabbos. Rachel Cyrulnik said, “The shul is a unifying force in the community.” Rabbi Feldman said, “People find different types of people who they can identify with and have different interests. The people, however, are committed to growth.”
Ohr Saadya has a strong commitment to Torah learning and offers many learning opportunities. Ohr Saadya has a very strong “homegrown” pool of Torah talent, with a good number of members having semicha. Many of these members are ready and willing to speak according to Rabbi Feldman. He said, “This creates an atmosphere of seriousness and constant growth.” Levine said this makes for a particularly interesting complement of lectures on Shavuot evening. The learning is also geared towards the children. Rachel said, “The Rabbi is very good at getting the children excited about learning and presents things in a fun way.”
Ohr Saadya is in an exciting phase. The shul is growing both in terms of members and space. The Shul is currently working with the township to take advantage of space in the facility that is not being used currently. The added space will allow for more children’s programming and a more comfortable davening experience. However, a larger congregation presents challenges as well. According to Josh, the shul needs to balance the growth in membership without losing the fine qualities that have made Ohr Saadya so popular with its members.
Rabbi Feldman is confident the shul will be able to hold on to its warm identity. He said, “We have a fantastic community and we are in a growth-and-development stage. We’re excited for what the future holds.”
By Larry Bernstein