June 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Livingston’s Suburban Torah Looks to Grow

When families are looking for a new community, there are many factors to consider: affordability, of course, coupled with proximity to work or public transportation and quality of schools. For Orthodox families, however, there are additional requirements that are deal-breakers and must-haves, including shuls, day schools and yeshivot, an eruv, a mikvah and availability of kosher establishments. The township of Livingston, New Jersey, meets each of these important criteria.

Located in the heart of Livingston stands The Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center, the township’s first Orthodox synagogue, and its members invite anyone who is considering relocating to or within the community to the “Discover Suburban Torah” shabbaton, to be held on the Shabbat of April 27-28, Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim.

Rabbi Elie Mischel, spiritual leader of Suburban Torah, has witnessed the growth of this vibrant community first-hand since joining the shul over four years ago. “We had an enormous shabbaton last year; 20 families came. I’m finding that Livingston is being talked about by people in other communities now; it is much more ‘on the map’ than it was even five or six years ago. We are a real option for people.” Thirty-five new families have joined the shul in the last three years alone.

According to Rabbi Mischel, “If you come here you’re no longer a pioneer,” he said. “We have a great crowd of young people. This is a good place to be socially—for the parents and the kids.”

The rabbi noted that the shul has seen people relocating from Teaneck, the Upper West Side and Queens, among other communities. “Friends bring their friends,” he commented.

Couples of all ages are finding Livingston, and Suburban Torah, to be the perfect place for their families. According to board member and co-chair of community growth Dan Serviss, who, along with his family, has been part of the shul for close to 10 years, “We have a diverse membership, made up of people of all ages. At events you can see couples in their 20s hanging out with couples in their 40s.”

Serviss continued, “We are a shul where everyone knows your name. We are accepting of people at all levels of religious observance, where everyone can have their own relationship with God and be comfortable wherever they’re at.”

Esther Greenberg, who moved to Livingston in October with her husband and two sons, said, “We found in Livingston an unusually warm, welcoming, close-knit community. Suburban Torah is a Modern Orthodox shul, which is what we wanted, but also has something unusual that impressed us so much—the diversity of Jews who choose to go there. What also rounds out the community is there are members of every age, and lots of children, and many programs geared toward children. We didn’t think there was a community like this in the New York metro area, and then we found it.”

Rabbi Mischel discussed the value of homes in the township, highlighting the desirability of the locale in terms of proximity to schools, kosher and other amenities and ease of commute to NYC, as well as homes’ resale value. The Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, a nursery through 12th grade yeshiva day/high school, is located mere minutes away, within the township’s borders, and the Livingston public school system is highly regarded as well; there is a state-of-the-art mikvah, and also a newly upgraded and expanded eruv, which encompasses St. Barnabas Medical Center, also located within the township.

Livingston is located along a bus route to Manhattan, bringing the city and all it has to offer within an hour of the township. For those who prefer a train, there are train stations located in neighboring communities, and the PATH station is also a short drive away.

Within and around the township, the community boasts more than a dozen kosher eateries and shopping establishments, including Shoprite’s Kosher Village, Jerusalem Restaurant, 16 Handles, Judaica and specialty shops. And the kosher offerings are only going to improve. With plans to open this Memorial Day weekend, Aron’s West Orange, a full-service kosher supermarket, will be located less than 15 minutes from the shul.

Rabbi Mischel is working hard to spread the word about Suburban Torah. In recent weeks, he has facilitated parlor meetings in Queens and Teaneck, spending Shabbat in both communities. Every Friday, two of the shul’s young mothers run a pre-Shabbat music program for parents and children, and Rabbi Mischel joined them as they took this program to the Upper West Side on a recent Sunday. His plan is to hold a parlor meeting in Riverdale next year.

Celine Leeds, co-chair of the Community Growth Committee, said, “Rabbi Mischel has done an incredible job reaching families both within Livingston and throughout the tristate area to join Suburban Torah.”

Serviss was happy to discuss his own spiritual journey with The Jewish Link, praising the shul and its rabbi for helping him pursue his personal relationship with God at his own pace. “About 10 years ago, I decided that I wanted ‘more’ and I started my personal religious growth. I spent an entire year searching for a shul where I felt comfortable.”

After spending Shabbat at a number of shuls, Serviss found Suburban Torah. “Rabbi Mischel gives gentle guidance,” he said. “He can lead without you feeling like you ‘have to’ do something. He understands where people are in their own closeness with God and he guides them to the next level without forcing his own views.”

Rabbi Mischel credited the shul’s membership for much of that accepting attitude. “We have a loving and accepting community of people at every step of their religious journey,” he said. “Wherever people are at, they can feel part of the community and be full participants. They can feel comfortable here.”

To that end, the “Discover Suburban Torah” shabbaton organizers try to match prospective couples with established families with whom they will feel most comfortable. Meals are held at people’s houses, as that is “the best way to connect with people in a more intimate environment,” remarked Rabbi Mischel. “The shabbaton is a great way to share the excitement of the community with prospective families.”

For more information about The Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center, visit www.suburbantorah.org. To register for the shabbaton, go to suburbantorah.org/shabbaton or call 973-994-2620.

By Jill Kirsch

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