EDISON – The timing of the pandemic is the “silver lining” of what essentially brought two respectful groups of the Jewish community together.
Temple Emanu-El (TEE), which has been at 100 James St. for 60 years, is gearing up to move to the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Middlesex County at 1775 Oak Tree Road.
On April 3, congregants of TEE will be commemorating the joyous relocation with a “symbolic and spiritual” community-wide Torah March, or “Walk to Worship.” TEE’s sacred scrolls will be walked from their home to their new home, about a mile away.
“We’re really thrilled to connect with the JCC,” said TEE’s Spiritual Director/Cantor, Emily Simkin. “What’s so exciting is we are literally taking our sacred texts of our congregation into the future, into our next chapter.”
The relocation increases synergy between the “religious, social and secular segments of our lives,” Simkin added, noting she will be at the Torah March in spirit. Simkin and her husband are expecting their first child in a few weeks.
In 2019, the JCC, which has been in service for 38 years, broke ground on a new two-story, approximately 11,000-square-foot expansion focused on all new program spaces, particularly for the center’s adult and senior adult programs of health and wellness, arts and cultural and socialization on the first floor and early childhood and special needs programs on the second floor.
In late February, the Edison Zoning Board of Adjustment granted final site plan approval for the JCC to begin construction.
“Lo and behold COVID came 12 days later and our expansion got put on hold,” said Adam Glinn, director of development at the JCC. “We were closed for several months and we had not begun the construction. We hadn’t even gotten the resolution from the Zoning Board [until months later] because after they approved our application at the meeting on Feb. 25, they were shut down for several months. They didn’t meet.”
In August 2020, Glinn received a phone call from someone on behalf of TEE to discuss the possibility of relocating their congregation to the JCC campus.
Months and months of discussions amongst leadership and respective attorneys of JCC and TEE ensued.
“Ultimately we reached an agreement on the relocation of TEE to the campus and we agreed that we would expand our expansion,” Glinn said.
TEE’s President Michael Leber said they had decided to put their long-time home on the market due to the state of significant repairs needed. Hackensack Meridian Health is expected to take over the building.
They vetted a number of properties in the area before deciding on building their new temple on the grounds of JCC, he said.
“It’s exciting to go through constructing a brand new home,” he said, noting the leadership at the TEE and JCC recognize what each other brings to the community. “It makes good fiscal sense.”
With that, the JCC will be back in front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment with an amended expansion.
“Now [the expansion is] going to be 21,000 square feet and that was redesigned so that it could provide spaces for the temple to conduct their programs and services and become part of the community campus and be part of what would be the expanded facility,” Glinn said.
Rituals and celebrations are planned for congregants as they prepare to transition to the new space. This includes a special Purim celebration and a final Sabbath Friday night service on April 1.
Post-pandemic, the 200 or so families of TEE are hopeful, Simkin said.
“Change is difficult, especially bittersweet,” she said of the move. “[The building] has so many memories, meaningful memories. The last six decades conjure feelings and emotions.”
Glinn said they are excited about the partnership with TEE.
“I think it’s going to be wonderful not only for the Jewish community, but wonderful to provide value to our greater community,” he said.
Ahead of the move, the JCC has made accommodations for the TEE.
“We have moved one of our preschool programs, we moved some of our existing staff into new office space to shared office space so we could identify and designate temporary spaces for [TEE’s] staff and we are going to work together on scheduling so we can accommodate programs and services that they do,” he said. “They are going to use our existing preschool classrooms. We have preschool Monday through Friday every day. They have religious school certain nights in evenings so in the evenings they will use our classrooms and they will use some of our meeting spaces and that will go on until we use our new expansion.”
With the amended expansion, the JCC/YMCA and TEE are able to provide opportunities for each other from shared lounge and meeting spaces to the TEE’s social banquet hall, Glinn said.
The JCC/YMCA and TEE collaboration is unique in its own way. Although there are examples of campuses of multiple Jewish organizations that share a campus across the country, the JCC is part of a unique collaboration with the YMCA, which was the first of its kind in the country.
“I chaired that collaboration 20 years ago to create the collaboration,” Glinn said. “This community campus JCC/YMCA is itself a unique collaboration so the temple coming here adds to that uniqueness.”
The Zoning Board has not set a date for the amended expansion proposal. Glinn said once all is finalized, they hope construction will take approximately 18 months to complete.
The estimated cost of the initial expansion was approximately $5 million. Glinn said they will have a better handle on the costs once they get their final revised site plan approval.
For the expansion, JCC undertook a capital campaign, which they will resume in the summer.
“We suspended the campaign during COVID,” Glinn said. “It fortunately was very successful up to that point. We will be resuming outreach in support during the summertime and then finance accordingly.”
Before the pandemic, the JCC campus had approximately 8,000 members. Now, the campus has under 5,000.
“We’re about 60% where we were before the pandemic,” he said. “It’s been increasing slowly as the months go by, but obviously we have been all impacted significantly by the pandemic.”
The TEE is inviting everyone from the Metuchen Edison Area Interfaith Clergy Association (MEAICA) to join them in their Walk to Worship. A number of dignitaries are expected to attend a ceremony at the JCC.
After community members walk back to TEE, there will be a tie dye activity honoring founding members in the 1960s and an outdoor BBQ.
Planning is still in progress and pre-registration will be required.
For information about TEE, visit www.edisontemple.org, call 732-549-4442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the JCC, visit jccmc.org.