April 17, 2024
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Shul Profile: Congregation Ahavas Achim of Highland Park

Once you master the challenge of pronouncing his name, there is a great deal to gain by a discussion with Rabbi Steven Miodownik, the dynamic rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Achim of Highland Park. Rabbi Miodownik came to Ahavas Achim following his education and smicha from Yeshiva University in 2000. He ran the youth and adult education departments for five years until the retirement of Rabbi Schwarzberg, and was then elected to his current position as rabbi. He also teaches at the local day school, the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY). His wife, Gila, is a pediatric physical therapist and they have four children.

The Jewish Link asked Rabbi Miodownik to describe the mission of the shul and his role as rabbi. He enthusiastically described Ahavas Achim as a warm and welcoming environment noted for its friendliness and collective goal to foster in the shul an environment which makes Yiddishkeit both inviting and comfortable. Members subscribe to a collective attitude of reverence for all Jews, irrespective of religious background and level of observance.

In speaking about some of the greatest attributes of Ahavas Achim, Miodownik commented, “The shul is particularly proud of the diversity of its membership that comes to daven side by side amongst a full spectrum of backgrounds, ages and interests.” Everyone davens together, and there are no “niche” minyanim. Seniors and retirees join with singles and young couples or young families, each benefiting and growing from the wisdom and experiences of the others.” The rabbi noted with great appreciation that Ahavas Achim is, for many members, the first Orthodox shul they have joined on their religious journeys.

Rabbi Miodownik stated that an additional testimony to the membership is their “superb decorum” during davening. Everyone participates in the effort to minimize talking during davening, and it means a great deal to the members that they can count on coming to shul on Shabbat and experiencing the tangible quiet and kavanah of Shacharit, the Torah reading, and Musaf.

Addressing what is unique about Ahavas Achim, the rabbi described how the membership and shul board of directors are open to new blood, new ideas and younger members taking on leadership roles. The “seasoned” board members embrace the contributions of younger members, and are enthusiastic about passing the mantle of leadership to the rising generation.

One of the most important and active functions of a shul is the youth programming. A partial role of youth programing is providing supervised, safe and engaging activities while parents attend a service. However, the youth department also helps to groom the youth for their eventual adult roles in any shul community. Ahavas Achim boasts a “full and robust” youth department, capably led by their youth director, Miriam Tennenbaum. A wide array of Shabbat morning groups, as well as the teen minyan, meet weekly. There are also events, trips and Sunday morning programs.

For the current generation, the adult education program, “Ahavas Achim University,” is renowned for its excellence, with a full year of themed Shabbatonim and shiurim published in advance, comparable to a university course selection catalog. The “university” attracts distinguished scholars, and seems to be a national blueprint for such programming. Additionally, the shul hosts a kollel for retirees twice a week, which draws members of the community at large to Ahavas Achim for varied and numerous learning opportunities.

Spreading the influence of Ahavas Achim into the community at large, the members are known for their involvement and leadership in other community positions and organizations. The shul serves as a home base for this involvement.

More information is available on the website www.ahavasachim.org, or by calling (732) 247-0532.

By Ellie Wolf

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