A YMHA, A Temple, A Shul…A Home (February and March 2013)

September 24, 2013
By bethmordecai
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A YMHA, A Temple, A Shul…A Home (February and March 2013)

During many of my visits to longtime members of our community, there is one refrain that appears over and over again in describing the Jewish community of Perth Amboy: “Our lives revolved around the Y, the Temple, and the Shul.” In the biography of our Jewish community, these three centers of Jewish life referred to separate institutions. Yet as we enter into a period of Jewish renewal with only one institution remaining, the steadfast and eternal values embedded within these three centers remain constant. Whether we view Beth Mordecai more as a “Y,” as a “Temple,” or as a “Shul”, it takes all of them put together to create a Home.


A “Y”

The Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), or “the Y” for short, was the home for sporting, cultural, and social activities that took place on a daily basis. Yet more than just a site for activities, it was the canvas upon which Jewish life in Perth Amboy was painted. To paraphrase President Michael Gast, “the Y was the place you’d go to spend time with your friends after school.” The vitality of life and the social connections that ensued and (in many cases) continue to last occurred because the Jews of Perth Amboy could get together at the Y.  

Filling the halls of Beth Mordecai with that vitality of life is critical to our renewal efforts. Just ask one of the nearly 180 who were here for the Welcoming Celebration and filled Safran Hall with their voices, their laughter, and with their affection for each other. Or talk with the many attendees of our Pep Rally or Hanukkah party. They will tell you of the joy that comes from being together and spending quality time with one another. The opportunities to spend that time may not happen as often, but when they do they exhibit the vitality of life that made the Y such an integral institution to the Jewish community; they make us feel right at home.

A “Temple”

The “German Temple,” as Beth Mordecai was called, represented the movement in modern Judaism to express our love for our faith with the aesthetic beauty of a grandiose house of worship. The services that touched people’s minds and hearts echoed the sacredness of the awesome surroundings. What’s more, the creativity of the worship experience – with music, English readings, confirmation services and eventually bat mitzvahs for girls – signified that this congregation understood the need to update worship for modern times.

The legacy of aesthetically beautiful and creatively inspired worship continues to live on today. Our High Holiday services fill our sacred space with powerful and inspiring music and words, and each time we congregate in the sanctuary for events like the Welcoming Celebration or special services like Grandparents’ Shabbat we experience the majesty our sacred home affords. Yet, even when we do not congregate in our beautiful sanctuary, we continue to create and innovate new ways of connecting with our tradition and our God. Whether it’s Grandparents’ Shabbat, White Out Friday Night, our Tu B’shvat Seder, or our various other programs, we continue to build upon the creative legacy of our Temple and make it uniquely our own.

A “Shul”

There were three orthodox synagogues in Perth Amboy, but one stood out above the rest. Sha’arey T’filoh, or as was commonly referred to as “the Shul,” was the center for Orthodox Judaism in Perth Amboy since the latter part of the 19th century. More than just a center for an orthodox way of Jewish life, Sha’arey T’fillah was home for those families who connected with the traditions of orthodoxy – the davvening in Hebrew, the drashes given by the rabbis, and the powerful role of halakhah in building a vibrant Jewish community.

I feel a deep resonance with these orthodox traditions, not because they are inherently orthodox but because they are essentially Jewish. A shul, in my mind, represents the closeness of community built upon keeping the iconic and eternal traditions of our people in good standing. This is important to all Jews, whether you are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, or Non-Denominational.  I referred to the Conservative synagogues in which I grew up as shuls, and in many ways I see the community we are building together as a shul (or, as we say on Twitter,  #PerthAmboyShul). A shul is built upon the stories we share on a Friday night when we interrupt the service to see how everyone’s week has been. A shul is formed via the connections we make every Saturday morning when we gather after services for lunch. A shul is created when each of us decides that just like our ancestors, it is our responsibility to come home and keep our faith and our Jewish traditions in good standing for another generation.

A YMHA, a Temple, A Shul…A home. No matter how we describe Beth Mordecai, it is a unique and special place that deserves our time, our money, and our energy. It is a place with incredibly strong roots and, before our eyes, we are witnessing it sprout new wings. Take a look at some of the shorter articles on the following pages as they describe (in brief) some of the ways in which these wings are taking flight. Take the time to get to know and invest in your striving Jewish Home for the Soul.



Category : Bulletin Articles History Rabbi