July 16, 2024
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Young Israel of Fort Lee Attracts Young Families and Empty Nesters

People who move to Los Angeles often stay long term, as the weather is beautiful and the kosher restaurants are numerous. However, after three years as the assistant rabbi at a large shul in LA, Rabbi Zev and Dr. Michal Goldberg moved back to New Jersey three years ago to serve as rabbi and rebbetzin of Young Israel of Fort Lee.

“We grew up in Teaneck and wanted to be closer to our families and have our children close to their grandparents,” said Rabbi Goldberg. “I was the assistant rabbi at Young Israel of Century City when we learned about the opening in Fort Lee and we were intrigued. We spent a Shabbos here in 2014 and were taken by the warmth and small-town feel of the shul. We also valued living in Bergen County with its abundance of resources. The kosher markets deliver to our home and all the Jewish day schools are close by.”

The Goldbergs are not alone in their appreciation of Fort Lee. Couples just beginning their families, who want to be close to New York City, are discovering Fort Lee. So are “empty nesters” who want to stay in the area, close to their children, but no longer need a family-sized home. “What you don’t realize from the highway is that Fort Lee is a very pleasant place to live, very safe and clean,” commented Rabbi Goldberg.

Young Israel of Fort Lee began in the 1970s as the Fort Lee Synagogue, becoming a Young Israel synagogue in 1980. In 2013 the shul was completely rebuilt. “Instead of patchwork repair, the shul leaders embarked on a capital campaign to build a beautiful shul and lay the foundation for growth,” said Rabbi Goldberg. “People who see the shul after having been away for many years are happily surprised by the transformation.”

Young Israel of Fort Lee is in walking distance from six luxurious high-rise apartment buildings. Empty nesters are delighted to have a shul in close proximity while enjoying the amenities of high-rise living including a doorman, concierge, pool, exercise room and Shabbat elevators in some buildings. They are happily saying goodbye to snow shoveling, leaf disposal and climbing stairs. Young couples with busy schedules appreciate the perks of high-rise living as well and find more value in Fort Lee for their money than in New York. The commute is easy with frequent buses to the city and the ferry a short drive away in Edgewater.

Although the shul is strictly Orthodox in religious practice, it has become a magnet for Jews of all ages and backgrounds who are looking for a welcoming environment where they can daven, learn and socialize. “The Torah connects people from different denominations and generations,” Rabbi Goldberg noted. “We value participation. People are embraced, no matter what kind of Jewish background they have. Many people who did not previously belong to an Orthodox congregation feel at home at Young Israel of Fort Lee. That is something that makes us all very proud.”

In addition to daily minyanim, the shul has weekly parsha, gemara and Shabbat afternoon classes. A weekday men’s bait midrash program following shachris has recently started. There is a monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh program with diverse events. Last month Dr. Michal Goldberg led a class on challah braiding. This month, Dr. Karen Shawn, a new member who moved from Teaneck last year, will be giving a lecture entitled, “The Messenger of the Heart: Hearing the Voice in Jewish Texts.”

Rabbi Goldberg said that over the past summer, the shul hosted an extraordinary lineup of speakers and lectures. Rabbi Hayyim Angel taught a three-part lecture series about the intersection of Tanach and academic Bible study. Dr. Steven Fine gave the lecture at the shul’s monthly Lunch and Learn about his research on the Arch of Titus. One of the highlights of the summer was a sold-out lecture with Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, entitled, “Rembrandt and the Rabbis.” Rabbi Paysach Krohn will be giving a Teshuva lecture on Tuesday, September 26, at 8:00 p.m.

Long-time members and newcomers credit Rabbi Goldberg with bringing new energy and vision to the shul. “The rabbi and rebbetzin have done some amazing outreach, not just limited to those who are frum,” said Robert Oppenheimer, a realtor who has davened at the Young Israel for 37 years, and is actively assisting newcomers who want to move to Fort Lee. “The programs they have instituted and the warmth that they radiate are great attractions. Fort Lee used to be a place that empty nesters reluctantly moved to when they weren’t in Florida or their second homes. Now it has a vibrancy that attracts singles, young couples and young families in addition to empty nesters who are now choosing to be here.” For example, Robert recently worked with a young couple who moved to Fort Lee from the Upper West Side after hearing about what the shul and Fort Lee have to offer.

The prevalence of young families also brings a new benefit to the empty nesters. “It’s great for me,” said Oppenheimer. “Now when my grandson visits for Shabbos, it’s very comfortable to bring him to shul. There are other little kids there for him to play with.”

Marty Epstein, president of the shul for the past three years, has been a member for 12 years since moving from Fair Lawn, and lauds the enhancements Rabbi Goldberg has brought to the community. “Rabbi Goldberg brought wonderful, creative ideas to the shul,” he said. “With the help of hardworking people in the community, he has made Fort Lee the place to be.”

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