History was made in central New Jersey in September as state officials granted final approval to the merger of two reform Jewish synagogues – Temple Shaari Emeth of Manalapan and Temple Rodeph Torah of Marlboro.
The announcement was made by Fabian Burstyn, board president of Temple Shaari Emeth, according to a press release.
The merged congregation has retained the name Temple Shaari Emeth and is housed in the
Temple Shaari Emeth building at 400 Craig Road, Manalapan.
Both congregations share a history and a commitment to Reform Judaism and to tikkun olam (a concept in Judaism which refers to actions intended to repair and improve the world). The new congregation serves more than 700 family units, according to the press release.
With a goal to create a stronger presence for Reform Judaism in central New Jersey,
appointed committees, with the approval of the boards of trustees and congregations of
both synagogues, began discussions about potentially joining together in January 2020.
The committees identified several synergies between the congregations, including a hearty embrace of creative and musical worship, a passion for adult learning and a commitment to social action projects, according to the press release.
The groups continued working together over the next 18 months to address the multiple facets of an integration, such as the retention and placement of staff from both organizations, a combining of the religious schools and youth groups, creating plans for the incorporation of sacred and memorial objects, designing a more robust lifelong learning program, enhancing worship services and more, according to the press release.
“The nationwide trend of diminishing temple membership coupled with the changing
demographics in our region made it prudent to explore a partnership,” Burstyn said. “Once
we began discussions, it quickly became evident our futures would look much brighter
together, as one congregation.”
Rabbi Melinda Panken continues as senior rabbi of the combined Temple Shaari Emeth
and Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin remains in his position as cantor.
To better meet the needs of the larger congregation and expanded programming, Rabbi Jonathan Falco was added to the clergy team as assistant rabbi in July.
Falco will be formally installed into his position at a Kabbalat Shabbat service on Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m. Special guest Rabbi Jan Katzew will also be in attendance.
“To serve in the rabbinate is to answer a calling,” Falco said. “The merging of Temple
Shaari Emeth and Temple Rodeph Torah unlocks a wellspring of opportunity for learning
and communal engagement and has provided me with the chance to answer that calling by
serving this wonderful congregation.
“I feel blessed to work alongside Senior Rabbi Panken and Cantor Wally to provide the spiritual leadership and nourishment that befits such a congregational family as our own,” he said.
Temple Shaari Emeth was founded in 1966. The temple is a member congregation of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest denomination of Judaism in the United States, according to the press release.
Temple Rodeph Torah’s history began with a meeting that was held in late 1980. In 1981, services began being held in people’s homes, according to its website. The first full-time rabbi came on board in September 1984. Temple Rodeph Torah eventually built a synagogue on Mohawk Drive in Marlboro that opened in February 1990.