Fair Lawn—Charles Lehman, 70, is the youngest member of a tiny shul in the basement of the HUD-subsidized Federation Apartments building in Paterson. Located at 510 E 27th Street, this little-known shul caters to the elderly and impoverished residents of the building, providing meaningful Shabbos and holiday services, and helping them maintain their Jewish identity.
“I moved here a few years ago for two equally important reasons,” said Lehman. “It’s subsidized housing, and since I’m in a wheelchair, the on-site shul makes it possible for me to daven with a minyan.”
The six men in the building, along with several women, face two challenges; forming a minyan, and relying on two badly deteriorating torah scrolls dating from 1953. The former has been addressed by a dedicated group of Fair Lawn residents, who recruit a B’al Koreh and organize a group to walk several miles regardless of the weather to help make a minyan. Jerry Schranz, along with fellow Fair Lawn resident, 67-year-old Sam Heller, who has been organizer and mentor to the residents, are extremely dedicated to these congregants, including Isak Meryam, a Latvian man who speaks five languages; Reuven Udem, who makes the kiddush and reads the names of the sick; with Lenny Kommit and Bill Brown among them.
But the Torahs, donated in the 1970s by the Yavneh Men’s Club (who gifted the Torah to the Federation Apartments), need extensive repair. Schranz has taken the lead in embarking on a restoration project to bring those Torahs back to life.
“This project is all encompassing, and means so much, both for these congregants as well as for the historical significance,” said Schranz, who has created a website (www.patersonshul.com) to describe the project he spearheaded.
They have retained services of sofer Raphael Hirsch, who is hard at work checking and re-inking the text, repairing the parchment, and replacing the worn-out wooden rollers that hold it up (Etz Chaim) as well as the mantle (slip cover). He’s almost done with the first Sefer Torah and he works tirelessly day and night to complete this ambitious project before Shavuot.
Sandy Eckstein, the Federation Apartments Director, said “We’re very excited because we’ve long felt that the greater Jewish community is completely unaware of us. This community is a great, undiscovered resource for low-income seniors; people can age in place and live happy, healthy lives, and we’re very grateful to the guys from Fair Lawn for their dedication.”
Schranz has thoroughly researched the history of the Torahs and has even found and reached out to the great grandson of one of the people who commissioned the sefer Torahs, who was thrilled to learn of this project, and who will be receiving the old Atzei Chaim to share with his family members. In addition, Yavneh students may help design one of the mantels.
If you want to take part in this mitzvah and also help raise money to replace very old and worn out chumashim, tallesim, and other accessories of a working shul, you can mail a check made payable to Jewish Community Housing Corporation (Ref: Torah restoration project for Paterson Shul) to Jerry Schranz, c/o Paterson Shul, 2-11 Kenneth Ave, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410. For more information visit the website or email [email protected] hope to have a dedication ceremony after Shavuot, but right now the number one priority is getting those Torahs ready to go and raising the money needed to bring them home to Paterson. Donations are tax deductible.
By Lisa Matkowsky