CLINTON TWP., N.J. – Ground was broken yesterday for Hunterdon’s newest synagogue, Chabad of Hunterdon’s Yakov and Hava Telyas Jewish Center, on Payne Road just off Route 31 here.

“We are standing in Clinton Township,” Rabbi Eli Kornfeld said at the event where hundreds were in attendance. Referring to how differences between mailing addresses and actual locations in Hunterdon can sometimes confound newcomers, the rabbi noted, “It’s a little confusing, because it could be Lebanon. It could be Annandale, it could be Clinton.

“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Kornfeld said. “But we are happy that we decided to place our home here.”

Sign Up for Flemington/Raritan Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The plan for the new 17,000-square foot facility includes a synagogue, social hall, Hebrew school, preschool, kosher kitchen, youth lounge, Holocaust Education Center, library, classrooms and outdoor terraces. 

Speakers included Rep. Leonard Lance; dean of Rabbinical College of America and head of Chabad in New Jersey Rabbi Moshe Herson; Clinton Township Mayor John Higgins and former Mayor Kevin Cimei; Martin Resnick; and members of the Sidney Krakauer family, for whom the Hebrew School will be named.

“Education is at the heart and the soul of Chabad, its philosophy and its mission,” said Rachel Kornfeld, the rabbi’s wife, whom he described as his “equal partner” in Chabad of Hunterdon.  

In a traditional groundbreaking, usually only celebrities and community leaders don a hardhat and grab a shovel.  

But that’s not how Chabad works.

“Everyone here in the community plays an important role,” said the rabbi. “Everyone is a part of our community. Without you, there would be no Chabad. That is a hallmark, a cornerstone principle of Chabad, that everybody gives what they are able to give. Time, resources, energy, and together the collective effort of everyone is what makes it possible.”

So, everyone took turns, accepting a hardhat and shovel and “taking a dig” on the project.

Lance noted that while his family has lived in Hunterdon for almost 300 years, the Jewish community here “is of historic importance” and dates back to the late 19th century.

Lance recalled philanthropist, presidential advisor and financier Bernard Baruch.

Baruch “was insistent that those who came across that difficult ocean journey, did not exclusively settle in our great cities,” Lance said. “And it was through his efforts, his philanthropy, that those of the Jewish faith came out here to Hunterdon County, to be involved in agricultural pursuits.”

Because of their labors, Hunterdon was once the fourth leading county in the country in the production of eggs, Lance said.

“My family was one of them,” said Resnick, an owner of Flemington Department Store.

“It really didn’t work out, because every time we planted a chicken, it died,” Resnick joked. “That’s how we ended up in retail.”

But Resnick’s light-hearted quip contrasted with his more solemn message. He recalled that his parents were survivors of World War II, when his mother spent four years in a slave labor/concentration camp, and his father fought in the Russian army and the Polish underground.

It will be for them – Jacob and Sara Resnick – that the educational wing at Chabad’s new home will be named.

Resnick hopes it will be a “learning center for Holocaust remembrance,” he said. Observing that the word “rabbi” means “teacher,” he implored Kornfeld to be the best teacher possible, so that the lessons of the holocaust are not forgotten.

Resnick was the only attendee to bring his own hardhat. He wore the same one his mother wore at the groundbreaking of the Flemington Jewish Community Center – 40 years ago.