Scotch Plains, NJ — About 100 congregants attended Temple Sholom's groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 11, along with Scotch Plains Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella, Councilman Lou Beckerman and New Jersey Assemblywoman Linda Stender. So began the momentous next stage in the congregation's decade-long search for a new home at its future location at 1925 Lake Ave. nearly 100 years after the temple's 22 founders first held Shabbat services in Plainfield.
The Reform congregation’s spiritual leaders, Rabbi Joel Abraham and Cantor Darcie Sharlein, led a dedication prayer before they and others churned the earth with steel shovels at the wooded five-acre plot purchased in 2007.
“Just as the time our ancestors spent in the wilderness made them appreciate the Promised Land all the more, so do we at Temple Sholom rejoice as the end of our journey is in sight,” said Abraham, who became the Reform congregation’s rabbi in July 1999. “We look forward to celebrating in our new home with all those who have helped us in our journey and all our new neighbors and friends. We have taken as our guide the words of Exodus (25:8), 'Build for Me a holy place, and I will dwell among them.’”
“This is a very exciting time for our congregation,” Temple President Sandra Nussenfeld told the crowd. “Countless people have worked so hard over the past 10 years to bring us to this day.”
Temple Sholom has held religious services at the Fanwood Presbyterian Church since 2003 and religious school at Union Catholic High School since 2002, but it’s search for a new home began even earlier, when the congregation was located in Plainfield.
There, in May 2001, faced with declining membership and an aging building, members first asked the question, “What does it take to be a thriving congregation?” This led to a study of whether to stay in place, merge with another temple or relocate altogether. Eventually, members voted overwhelmingly to move.
In summer of 2003, Temple Sholom sold its building and migrated to the Fanwood Presbyterian Church — not only a gracious decision by the Fanwood church, but also, it turns out, a late favor returned, as one of the founding families of Temple Sholom had donated the land for the church building.
“We have been blessed with truly gracious hosts at the Fanwood Presbyterian Church and Union Catholic High School,” Nussenfeld said. “Our congregation shared many wonderful years and memories together in the rooms within the church and the school which we turned into our social, educational and worship space.”
To date, the congregation has collected nearly $1.4 million, and the fundraising efforts continue to push forward. Today, Temple Sholom is seeking to complete its “Bonim,” or building, campaign to raise $2 million toward construction. People who grew up in the congregation, current and former members and even their friends and relatives as well as members of the larger community have all contributed to make the congregation’s dream a reality.
“We were lucky to find two places to allow us to move into the area while we figured out our next steps,” said Past President and Bonim Campaign Chairwoman Susan Sedwin. “Little did we know that we would begin our capital campaign just as the United States fell into a deep recession. While it has taken us much longer than ever imagined, we are now taking the final step and beginning the construction of our new home. Our officers, our building, capital campaign and finance committees and congregants too numerous to mention have worked long and diligently to allow us to get to this amazing point in time. With our award-winning religious school, our warm and welcoming community and our social-action work, Temple Sholom will thrive and prosper in our new home.”
“We look forward to continued strength and growth as we begin our next 100 years as a congregation dedicated to each other and the Jewish community at large as we build our new home,” said Nussenfeld. “We look forward to opening our doors next year to celebrate the New Year in our new home.”