August 7, 2021
Dear Members and Friends:
If anyone ever doubted that G-d looks over Congregation Ahavas Sholom, this pandemic year was proof. Remote services presented an opening that allowed the building’s renovation. It started with Joan Podnos’ fervent wish for comfortable seating, and her research produced beautifully designed wooden pews gifted to us by a Long Island synagogue, which were dismantled and reinstalled by congregant Alan Gundy. But then came a series of renewals, each the result of its predecessor rather than one overarching plan. Before installing the chairs, we decided to sand and refinish the sanctuary’s softwood floor, adding an accentuating border of walnut for the bimah. The floor’s new luster demanded that the walls be painted, and now the walls are cream, highlighted by revitalized window frames of a soft golden hue. These improvements motivated Alan and Susan Zwiebel to donate new lighting. Gone are the fluorescents, replaced with chandeliers that are reproductions of the original chandelier that hung below the skylight in the synagogue’s early years. Not only did the Zwiebels donate the new lighting, but Alan, an electrical engineer, installed each of the ten chandeliers, with Eric as his helper. The grand finale will be the abstract glass laylight, 14’ x 14’, conceived by artist Marianne Downs Behle, who is now fabricating the work using stained glass imported from France. The family of Jerry Gottesman z’l has sponsored the overall work in his memory, with several of the individual panels available for congregants to memorialize their loved ones.
Without the need for weekly oneg luncheons, the kitchen committee, spearheaded by April Modlinger and Dubra Shenker, planned an entirely new kitchen. Alan Gundy, whose New York business outfits the finest stores and restaurants, has provided the insight and manpower to design and craft the kitchen. Leading all these efforts was President and Chief Executive Officer Eric Freedman, whose professional construction background has been essential in planning and executing these interrelated projects.
Meanwhile, all Shabbat and holiday services have been observed remotely with a minyan that has spanned the world. Congregants Alla Eicheldinger tunes in from her native Russia, Nasi Yisrael joined in from Kuwait, and Fred and Linda Grabiner chanted from Florida. Seeing each other weekly in the “Hollywood Squares” of Zoom reinforces our community. Rabbi Rosenbach is conducting a weekly “Introduction to Judaism” seminar over 24 Sunday evenings—please feel free to join. Producer Jeffrey Haveson has masterminded our remote environment, publishing the newsletter each week and moderating the Zoom sessions.
Community events have continued notwithstanding the pandemic. A highlight was the premiere performance of “The Jazz and Justice Suite,” a new work co-sponsored by Ahavas Sholom, NJPAC and the Rutgers Institute for Jazz Studies, celebrating the activism and artistry of the African American and Jewish communities. Creators Oren Neiman and David Freeman performed the work in our renovated sanctuary to a remote audience, with SHA’AR, a New York-based group of Jewish jazz musicians and a special appearance by NJPAC’s Director of Jazz Instruction, Mark Gross, on the sax. In March the synagogue honored frontline workers represented by Omar Rodriguez, Manager of Materials Management at Saint Michael’s Hospital. Mr. Rodriguez distributed hundreds of the 16,000 PPE masks sewn by the family of our bookkeeper, Christine Piatkowski, funded by the congregation. We are also proud that we have continued regular compensation for our kitchen helper and cleaner, Edit, and her son Asael, who after months of living in New York homeless shelters, have secured their own apartment.
The crowning achievement of our tikkun olam was Eric’s “Diversity United” program, a partnership with the City of Newark. Conceived to educate Jews and people of all faiths during the country’s racial awakening, Eric recruited City Council President Mildred Crump to chair a monthly panel of African-American leaders with Rabbi Capers Funnye (“Obama’s Rabbi,” Michelle Obama’s cousin, the leader of 200-member Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation of Chicago) and Pastor Steffie Bartley (N.J. coordinator of National Action Network and Pastor of New Hope Memorial Baptist Church in Elizabeth). Four monthly sessions have been held with more than 100 overall participants who have studied the criminal justice system, prisoner re-entry, fair housing, and reparations for those descended from slavery, with guest speakers from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the Fair Share Housing Center. Participants watch documentaries and read articles for the sessions held on the third Tuesday of every month. Please join us over the coming year.
The synagogue will re-open for the High Holidays starting Erev Rosh Hashanah on Labor Day evening, September 6. Services will be both in-person and remote. To maximize safety for all congregants, in-person attendance will be limited to 100 people, one-half the usual pre-pandemic accommodation. All in-person attendees will be required to register beforehand and certify that they have been vaccinated, and all will be required to mask. A security guard will greet attendees, making sure that each person has pre-registered. Those who have not pre-registered will not be allowed entry. If you do not meet the above requirements or otherwise choose to observe remotely, please join us on Zoom; the link will be sent to everyone before each service. All Sabbath and holiday services following the High Holidays will be observed in the same fashion, requiring pre-registration or attendance by Zoom.
We thank the congregation for having maintained the level of giving last year, notwithstanding the remote services, and we ask all congregants to continue to do so again. This year, in addition to the regular annual form, which you can complete by mail or online http://ahavassholom.org/home/membership with payment through PayPal, there is a second seat attendance registration form which can also be completed in print or online http://new.ahavassholom.org/services-registration-form/ If you plan to come to services in person, please make sure that you have completed the new attendance form with the names of all attendees for each service, by September 2. This will take planning on your part to line up your family and friends for each service by that time. Also, if you attend in person, please remember to bring back holiday prayer books if we lent them to you last High Holidays. If you have questions, please call Eric at 201.988.3799.
Our annual congregational meeting will take place Tuesday, November 9, at 7:15 pm, via Zoom. Thank you all, stay safe and join us in person or via Zoom for the High Holidays.
Robert Steinbaum, Vice President
As the oldest continuously operating synagogue in the City of Newark, Congregation Ahavas Sholom is an Egalitarian Conservative Synagogue with a traditional service that welcomes all Jews, fulfills their spiritual needs, provides educational and cultural experiences.
The synagogue’s mission states that Ahavas Sholom is passionately committed to the pursuit of Tikun Olam (repair of the world) and Tzedakah (social justice). Ahavas Sholom recognizes as part of Tikun Olam that it has an obligation to the environment, physical space and activities of the community. We therefore consider support for the conservation of open space, the creation of both passive and active recreation in Newark and among communities within its metropolitan area to be part of our mission.
Ahavas Sholom is characteristic of other religious institutions in Newark. Just as many inner-city churches draw the greater part of their members from outside the city itself, Ahavas Sholom now has relatively few congregants who live in Newark.
American cities are redeveloping in part as their unsurpassed cultural and religious institutions attract suburbanites to meaningful experiences. Ahavas Sholom is holy ground. It inspires those who step through its doors to pray, think, and learn, and to care about each other’s lives and the life of the community.