After a three-year hiatus due to COVID, the Discover West Orange Shabbaton is back, and the community could not be any more excited to welcome visitors and prospective residents the Shabbat of March 3-4, Parshat Zachor. The shabbaton is sponsored by Congregations AABJ&D and Ohr Torah.
Esti Buskin, head of the AABJ&D marketing committee and shabbaton chair, said, “Discover West Orange is run by AABJ&D and Ohr Torah, shuls with multiple minyanim, robust youth programming, Torah learning and classes, multiple kollels, social programs for adults and families and much more.”
Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler, rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D, said, “West Orange has always been a special community, full of warmth, chesed and Torah. We’ve come back stronger than ever after COVID. There is more Torah learning, more youth programs and more minyanim than ever before. New restaurants are opening, the West Orange Fooderie is here, along with Holy Schnitzel. We are grateful to now have Hatzalah and a community-wide chesed committee. Yet with all of this growth, West Orange still feels like a small community where each person matters.”
Rabbi Marc Spivak, rabbi of Ohr Torah, added, “West Orange is a genuine community and a great place to raise a family or retire to. Its proximity to New York City is a plus for commuters and those who’d like to take advantage of what the city has to offer without living there. There are many chesed opportunities, as well as educational options for all age groups, from early childhood to daytime and evening learning or chavrusas for men and women at all levels.”
Rabbi Yosef Sharbat, rabbi of the Sephardic Shul at AABJ&D, shared, “The camaraderie and unity between the Sepharadic and Ashkenazic minyanim makes West Orange a unique community. Sephardic families have the ability to continue to follow in their heritage and traditions while also being completely integrated in the community at large.”
West Orange has seen tremendous growth over the past few years, not just in terms of families moving to town, but in terms of what the community has to offer.
The Fooderie, one of the sponsors of this year’s shabbaton, opened in late 2022 and has attracted shoppers from well outside the immediate Orthodox community.
Shlomo Gornish, owner of The Fooderie, said, “We love being in West Orange, with its amazing, diverse clientele. Come and shop, support The Fooderie, and we will be here for your needs for many years to come!”
Shael Sokolowski, who moved to West Orange in 2016, was instrumental in bringing Hatzalah to the greater MetroWest community. “We launched about 18 months ago and have responded to more than 600 emergencies since then. As part of the leadership team, I am humbled to see the demand for, and growth of, our 24/7/365 emergency medical service. We continue to engage the community through no-cost CPR and first aid training programs and other events. We also provide free access to medical equipment for those in need, such as wheelchairs, walkers, scooters and canes,” he said. Please visit www.hatzalahmetrowest.org to learn more.
Buskin shared her excitement regarding all the new families who have been moving to town. “There is so much opportunity to get involved, and it has been so wonderful to see so many new members jump in and make a real, impactful difference.”
Yoni Muschel, who moved to West Orange with his wife, Jenny, and their two children just two months ago, said that when they were looking to move, they wanted a more intimate community with an “‘out of town’ vibe in the tri-state area. … As soon as we got here, we felt like we were home … You move in, and feel like you’ve been friends with these people for years.”
Yoni got involved right away, and is an integral part of Hatzalah, much to the delight of the couple’s oldest child, Sammy, who is almost 5. Their younger child, Sadie, is 2.
Aliza Cinamon, who moved back to West Orange last year, with her husband, Michael, and their children, Arielle, 7 ½, and Judah, almost 5, shared, “There are countless ways to get involved. Michael is on a shul committee and attends mishmar weekly. I have taken on small roles on the parent committees at both our kids’ schools, The Lauren Elise Bier Nursery School (LEBNS) and Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy (JKHA), and our children look forward to attending Shabbos groups, parent-child learning and youth events regularly.”
Annette and Josh Roth didn’t plan to move to West Orange; their stay was supposed to be temporary. “Our lease was ending in the city and we knew we needed more space for our growing family, but we had no idea where we wanted to settle,” Josh said. “We ended up moving in with my parents [in West Orange] to buy us some time … Our plans changed quickly on our first Shabbos here when we arrived at shul only to be surrounded by young couples with young children like ours. We fell in love with the community and formed so many amazing relationships.” The Roths have two daughters, Zoe, 3 ½, and Bella, 1 ½.
Eldar Ben-Zikry, who moved to town with his wife, Ayala, and their children, Nava, 3, and Zev, 18 months, said, “Ayala grew up in West Orange, and every one of her friends who grew up here is someone with a big heart, who is always looking to do chesed, something we attribute to the warm shul and community they lived in as children.”
He continued, “One of the things that makes the community special is the Sephardic Shul. It is very rare to find a Sephardic minyan, with a phenomenal rabbi, within a large infrastructure, offering youth groups every Shabbat, events for kids, and the ability to stay connected to all of your friends given that everyone davens under one roof.”
For those considering a new community, there are many factors to consider. Affordability is paramount, likely followed by ease of commute and quality of schools. West Orange fulfills all of these important criteria.
The township offers housing at a variety of price points, giving the buyer more for his money in every price range.
West Orange is located within 15 miles of New York City, giving commuters easy access via bus, train and PATH. The township also provides jitney service to and from NJ Transit stations in nearby towns.
The community is well situated in terms of schools. LEBNS is housed at AABJ&D, and the local yeshivas also offer pre-K programs. These yeshivas, JKHA/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School (RKYHS), in the adjacent town of Livingston, and the Jewish Educational Center, in nearby Elizabeth, provide schooling for pre-K through grade 12, with Kushner also offering a 3s program.
The schools, in cooperation with the shuls and West Orange’s MetroWest JCC, also offer newcomers financial incentives through the The New Family Incentive program, potentially amounting to over $50,000. For those who choose public school but still desire a Jewish education, the community offers Kulanu, a program specifically tailored to meet those needs.
For observant families, the next two community must-haves are eruv and mikvah. West Orange has these covered. The eruv has been in place since 1983, was expanded fairly recently, and is checked weekly. The mikvah has been a vibrant community institution for decades and is maintained at the highest halachic standards.
Families next look at a community’s amenities. The greater community has more than a dozen kosher eateries and shopping establishments, including the Kosher Villages of West Orange and Livingston ShopRite, the newly expanded Kings Kosher Marketplace in Livingston, restaurants, Judaica and specialty shops, allowing all manner of culinary desires to be met in and around the township’s borders.
The newest addition to the kosher restaurant scene is Holy Schnitzel, located in nearby Roseland. The store opened in late 2021 and has been providing much more than schnitzel to very satisfied customers since then.
The Fooderie also offers dine-in and takeout options, including milchig, fleishig and pareve; and they serve pizza and more; and are open for self service motzei Shabbat.
Outside of its Jewish life, West Orange offers many attractions for adults, children and families. The South Mountain Recreation Complex includes the Richard J. Codey Skating Arena, Turtle Back Zoo, Safari Mini Golf and Treetop Adventure Course, in addition to a beautiful walking trail, boating and Pirate Park. The AMC Theater at Essex Green 9, OSPAC outdoor amphitheater, township pool complex, hiking trails and, of course, Thomas Edison National Historic Park and Museum offer large-scale entertainment close to home.
West Orange also has an active recreation department, which accommodates Orthodox families by offering Sunday sports options, including soccer, basketball and baseball.
The shabbaton will pair new families with host families from the community. Friday night dinner will be enjoyed with the host family. Shabbat morning davening and lunch will be at AABJ&D. Mincha and seudat shlishit will be at Ohr Torah. Guests will have the opportunity to meet the local rabbis and school representatives, and speak with members of the community. On Saturday night, guests are invited to join a community game night at AABJ&D.
Registration for the shabbaton is required. Email [email protected] to register.
By Jill Kirsch