May 20, 2024
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Livingston’s Suburban Torah Is Growing Strong

These are exciting times for the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center community. The Livingston-based synagogue, under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Elie Mischel, has seen tremendous growth over the past two years. For the second consecutive year, there has been an influx of new families, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.

“It’s very exciting,” said Rabbi Mischel. “We are seeing people move in at all different stages of their lives. We have young couples without children, families in the early stages of their child-raising years as well as older families and couples.”

One of the families that moved to Livingston with children already in school is the Commer family. “We chose Livingston after learning about the exceptional programming of the local yeshiva, JKHA. The warmth of the community was evident when we were hosted for Shabbat. We are looking forward to making many new friends and memories in our new home,” said parents Leah and Joshua Commer.

Not only are the newcomers at varying stages of family life, but they are varied religiously as well. The majority are “typical Modern Orthodox families,” said the rabbi, but many are at “different stages of growing and learning Jewishly. I try to work with them at whatever their starting point to help them grow.”

Rabbi Mischel is proud of the over 10 percent growth his shul has seen in these past two years and believes there are several reasons that 25 new families have chosen Livingston, specifically Suburban Torah, as their new home.

“You can’t ignore the school affordability piece,” he said. “Kushner has a wonderful new incentive program and that is definitely drawing families.”

In addition, “We are trying to get out there into different communities to let them know about Livingston. We recently took a few of our established couples to Talia’s Steakhouse and had 40 couples show up to hear about our community. I’ve been to the Upper West Side, Riverdale, Queens and even Teaneck,” said the rabbi.

According to Rabbi Mischel, the community hasn’t fundamentally changed. “It has always been a warm and close-knit community, only now people are finding out about it. We are a place where even people you may not be close to or know well care about you, let you know that you matter, say hello on Shabbos or in Shoprite. You know that your contributions make a difference.”

Often, the driving force behind people’s decisions to move to the Suburban Torah community is that first Shabbat experience. “If we can get them here for a Shabbos, typically they’re sold,” added Rabbi Mischel. “They feel the warmth, and that our members are excited to meet them and care that they’re here. That matters.”

Michael Chapman, who moved with his wife to Livingston from the Teaneck apartments in July, agreed. “We knew some people in the community and liked the general area. We found Livingston aesthetically pleasing. Then we came for the recruitment shabbaton and had a really nice time. People introduced themselves to us, said hello, wished us a good Shabbos and really seemed interested in us. We felt welcome and really comfortable.”

Chapman continued, “We were able to find a nice house on a nice piece of property in our price range. It’s important for people to know that you can get a nice house here for under $500,000. We feel fortunate to be a part of this community. Chany attends Sisterhood events, I attend Men’s Club events. We’re involved.”

“One thing we liked was that moving here was different,” he added. “We didn’t do the expected thing of moving from the Teaneck apartments to a house in Teaneck or Bergenfield. We also heard good things about Kushner and what it has to offer academically. Also, we heard about their tuition incentives.”

The shul’s growth does seem to have coincided with the rollout of Kushner’s affordability initiative, but Rabbi Mischel’s presence cannot be ignored. He began at the shul about three years ago and immediately set his focus on community growth. That he is a full-time rabbi at Suburban Torah allows him the opportunity to have one-on-one time with members, which definitely makes a difference. He has the time to form true connections with people and is able to be involved in the community.

Said Chapman, “Rabbi Mischel is great — as good as it gets.”

One thing the rabbi feels lucky about is that “there is no shortage of people willing to run things. Our shul has less professional staff than some others, so we are a volunteer-driven synagogue. The people are very involved and fired up to help,” he said.

This year, for the first time, the shul ran out of seats on Sukkot. “That is a good thing,” stated Rabbi Mischel. “It’s very exciting and only highlights our growth.”

While some communities offer financial incentives to entice people to move there, Suburban Torah made no such offer, “and, still, people are coming,” the rabbi added.

With families moving in at all stages of their lives, not only is the shul growing, but the nursery school is as well. The Iris Berman Early Childhood Center, located at Suburban Torah, is seeing an influx of new children, with more expected in the coming years as the community’s babies turn into toddlers and then preschoolers.

With myriad programs throughout the year appealing to all ages and interests, Suburban Torah’s growth doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. For more information, please visit their website at www.suburbantorah.org or call 973-994-2620.

The Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center is located at 85 West Mt. Pleasant Avenue, Livingston, NJ.

By Jill Kirsch

 

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