145 Broadway, Newark; 973-485-2609
Newark’s oldest continuously operating synagogue, Ahavas Sholom opened in 1923, its congregation having begun forming as early as 1905. In those days, Newark’s Jewish community was thriving. Today, the city’s Jewish population has dwindled to a relative handful, but weekly and holiday services continue for the small egalitarian Conservative congregation, whose 80 families include a few descendants of Holocaust survivors.
Behind a tall, spiked, wrought-iron fence, the beige stone and red brick building is ennobled by four Corinthian columns flanking its entry. Inside, stained-glass windows dedicated to members long gone line the sanctuary walls.
On this night, 20 members of the congregation chant Hebrew prayers before the synagogue’s massive ark. A masterpiece of intricately carved mahogany with Gothic arches, it was made in the 1870s for a synagogue in Manhattan that later closed. “It’s the oldest ark in the state of New Jersey and one of the oldest in the United States,” says Robert Steinbaum, an Ahavas Sholom vice president.
During this night’s service, Newark gains a new Jew: Tim Lee, a retired journalist and African-American, who has concluded two years of conversion classes. He reads from the Torah for the first time. As he concludes, the congregation responds with an exuberant, “Mazel tov!”
“This is like his bar mitzvah,” says Rabbi Simon Rosenbach. “We don’t usually shout like that after a reading, but this was really special.”
IF YOU GO: Shabbat services start at 9:00 am every Saturday, followed by lunch for all in the downstairs social hall. Check the website for exhibitions at the upstairs museum.