New Jersey Jewish News
Temple Shaari Emeth prepares for 40th anniversary celebration
In October 1965, a small group of Jews in western Monmouth County placed an advertisement in a local newspaper. The message was brief and to the point: Wanted families interested in organizing a temple.
That initial outreach resulted in the creation of Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary at a Lag BaOmer service on Friday, May 19, in the temple sanctuary.
Each year, the Reform congregation honors its religious-school teachers at the Lag BaOmer service; this year, the service will be expanded to commemorate the temples 40 years of creative service and education, according to Dina Maiben of Lakewood, director of religious education since 1989.
Back in 1965, 18 local residents responded to the ad; all were young, energetic, and raring to go, recalled Barbara Tinkler of Loch Arbour, one of the founding members.
There were 18 of us a magic number, she said. We should have realized right away that we would last forever.
There was no shortage of enthusiasm, she added. The group immediately attracted interest from the national Reform movement, which sent a consultant to talk with the prospective members. Within two weeks, Irwin Goldenberg, a student rabbi, became the congregations first religious leader.
Fifty members of the local Jewish community attended the first Friday night service on Feb. 4, 1966, at the Manalapan home of Ed and Lori Watson; Stu and Eleanor Caine hosted all the holiday celebrations in their Manalapan home during the temples first year.
Both homes also served as a base for the new temples religious school. Twenty-three students attended the first class on Feb. 18, 1966.
Meanwhile, additional organizational efforts were under way. Approximately 50 area families had indicated a strong interest in the formation of the new temple, and a committee was formed to research names for the new house of worship. When the charter was filed in February 1966, a name had been chosen: Shaari Emeth, which translates into gates of truth.
At the same time, the Route 9 corridor in Manalapan was expanding at a rapid pace, and many Jewish families from New York City were relocating to the area. By 1967, the members of Temple Shaari Emeth needed more space for the growing congregation.
Members formed a series of committees to find a solution, and the general community in western Monmouth County answered the call. In 1967, the First Presbyterian Church in Englishtown offered its facility for High Holy Day services. Friday night Shabbat services moved to the Carver Nursing Home (now an assisted-living facility), also in Englishtown, and the religious school began meeting at the Clark Mills Elementary School in Manalapan, courtesy of the Manalapan Board of Education.
In 1968, High Holy Day services took place at a furniture store in Freehold, which was an extremely comfortable location, Tinkler said. However, it became apparent that Shaari Emeth needed a permanent home to call its own.
The debate began, said Tinkler. Should we look for an existing structure or build a brand-new facility? A building committee was formed and examined every aspect. But then, the solution we were seeking came to us in an outstanding show of generosity.
In August 1968, Kevork Hovnanian of Toms River, a commercial and residential developer of Armenian descent who had supported a variety of religious causes in Monmouth and Ocean counties, offered to donate 3.5 acres of land on Craig Road in Manalapan. Temple Shaari Emeth now stands on the site, which had been an empty field. (Today, octogenarian Hovnanian is board chairman of one of the states largest real estate empires.)
After the location had been secured, fund-raising efforts went into high gear. Picnics, dances, flea markets, car washes, and everything in between became a way of life for congregation members. A group of the temples younger members recorded a rock and roll service, and all proceeds from the records sales were directed toward the building fund.
Every cent that was raised went toward the construction of the new building, Tinkler said. The local media and friends in the western Monmouth community at large helped us publicize everything. It seemed that the temples building project became the hub of life in the area. Everyone wanted us to succeed.
A place for kids
In May 1969, within three years of the signing of the charter, construction began at the Craig Road location. The official dedication took place in April 1970.
From 1969 to 1971, Rabbi Peter Kasdan of Marlboro served as the temples religious leader. He was succeeded by Rabbi Phillip Schechter of Freehold, who occupied the position for the next 29 years. In 2003, Rabbi Melinda Panken of Manalapan became Shaari Emeths religious leader. Michael Weisser served as cantor from 1971 to 1973; Cantor Wayne Siet of Marlboro has been with the temple since 1973.
Throughout the 1970s, membership continued to increase, and a new wing and youth lounge were added to the building in 1977. The temple currently encompasses nine classrooms, a sanctuary, a social hall, library, the youth lounge, a kitchen, and a series of offices, all of which serve the 680 families who form the membership of Shaari Emeth.
The temple has always been focused on the educational aspect of its young members, according to Maiben.
Providing a place for kids and offering them a quality education has been a driving force since the temple began, she said. We wanted everything to have a creative aspect, and we went to great lengths to make sure that happened.
Weisser, the temples first cantor, served as religious school director in 1971 and was succeeded in 1973 by Eugene Sadoff of Manalapan. Between 1973 and Maibens arrival in 1989, Gail Teicher and Elsa Williams, both of Manalapan, served as religious school directors.
The school population has grown from the original 23 students to 527 students in grades K-10; another 16 students in grades 11-12 are in the schools post-confirmation program.
The religious school program offers a Hebrew language specialist who teaches conversational Hebrew to students in grades K-6; in addition, a teacher training program is offered to post-bar/bat mitzva students who are interested in becoming religious school instructors. In recent years, a future rabbi and five certified public school teachers emerged from this program, Maiben said.
There is also an enrichment program that has become a source of pride for students and teachers, she added.
The program began as part of the schools pledge to offer a creative outlet, Maiben explained. A junior choir is directed by the cantor, a dance troupe is directed by Joanna Livne of East Windsor, and a drama club operates under the direction of Elaine Tessoun of Howell.
All three groups will play a role in the May 19 commemorative service. The drama group will present a play written by Maiben about the founding of the temple, the dance troupe will perform a celebratory Israeli folk dance, and the junior choir will sing with the cantor. In addition, religious school students will lead the evenings service as a tribute to their teachers, Maiben said.
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