New Jersey Jewish News 11/30/04

Chabad establishes permanent center in Monroe Township

by Marilyn Silverstein
NJJN Middlesex Correspondent

In a handsome colonial house at the intersection of Gravel Hill and Union Valley roads in Monroe Township, with a horse farm on one side and cornfields on the other, the first permanent home of the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe is taking shape.

Inside, a photograph of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, peers down from the family room wall onto boxes waiting to be unpacked. Nearby, a long table stretches from the dining room into the living room in anticipation of festive Shabbat meals. And in the basement downstairs, dozens of boxes of books fill the spaces that one day will house a library, an Israel center, and the region’s first Holocaust resource center.

“Everything is upside down, but — slow but sure,” said Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky, codirector of the center with his wife, Chanie, as he and his friend, Leonard Posnock of Monroe, showed a guest around the new center.

“My vision is, this three-acre lot should be a warm home where anybody in the community could feel they’re welcome for whatever way they want to practice their Judaism — monthly Shabbat services, Shabbat dinners, lectures, reading up on Jewish history, counseling,” the rabbi said. “It’s a place to celebrate Jewish identity, a place you can consider part of the community, a place that will be the in place for people to come and enjoy themselves, Jewishly and socially.”

The Zaklikovskys have been planting the seeds for the permanent center since 2002 — first commuting to the area and then, in the fall of 2003, moving into rented space in Monroe and reaching out to the community of some 6,000 Jews there. Their center, one of 42 New Jersey affiliates of the Morristown-based Rabbinical College of America-Lubavitch, offers monthly Shabbat services, holiday services and celebrations, lunch-and-learn courses, weekly classes on Torah and Kabala, and women’s groups. The center is under the auspices of Chabad-Lubavitch of Greater Mercer County.

“Slowly but surely, he has built up an unbelievable following,” said Posnock, a longtime supporter of Chabad who has served on the board of the Rabbinical College of America-Lubavitch for some 20 years. A former president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, he currently serves as cochair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. He and his wife, Frieda, are members of the Conservative Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah in Clark, where they previously resided.

“This is the first permanent residence of Chabad of Monroe, and it’s not only a Chabad center, it’s a Jewish center,” he said. “That’s what we want to create here. We want to create a Jewish center where the rabbi and his wife can reach out to all facets of Jewish life.”

To make that vision a reality, Posnock began reaching out to his new friends in Middlesex County and his old friends in eastern Union County, enlisting their support as founders of the new center. Plans are under way to honor the founders and dedicate the center next spring, with a klezmer concert and a program celebrating the opening of the new shul.

One goal for the permanent center is to establish a Holocaust memorial room, which will house a sefer Torah rescued from Europe, hundreds of books on Holocaust history, and the memoirs of survivors living in Monroe, which has the largest concentration of Holocaust survivors in New Jersey, according to Posnock.

“That’s our past,” he said. “We have to think about our future, and our future is Israel. It’s very, very important that we establish a room downstairs about Israel and its accomplishments for the last 55 years. We have to do our part to support Israel and to teach people how important it is to our people.”

In addition to establishing centers on the Holocaust and Israel, the new Chabad center will expand its programs, offering weekly Shabbat services and a lecture series, Rabbi Zaklikovsky said. “The weekly services will be a big thing. It’s a big undertaking,” he said. “It’s a full-fledged shul, not a fledgling minyan.”

All of these activities are taking place in a region that is on the verge of a demographic explosion, according to the two men. At present, Monroe, an area that is only about one third developed, encompasses seven retirement communities. But three more such communities are on the planning boards, in addition to hundreds of new single-family homes.

The fact that another Chabad rabbi is operating in town — Rabbi Yehuda Spritzer, an appointee of Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, executive director of the Chabad House at Rutgers University — has little impact on the activities of the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe, said Zaklikovsky — although he hastened to add that his own center, which is sanctioned by the Rabbinical College of America-Lubavitch, is “the legitimate presence of Chabad in Monroe.”

Given the demographics of the region, Posnock said, there’s room for a rabbi on every corner.

“The place is really going to explode,” Posnock said. “There’s a tremendous concentration of Jews here, and it’s going to double.” Establishing the permanent Chabad Jewish Center on the cusp of that demographic explosion will be good not only for Chabad, but for the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and all of the Jewish community, he observed.

“When people get involved with one aspect of Judaism, it leads to another,” he said. “When you get involved with a temple, you get involved with federation and with community building. They all have common links, common bonds. It’s reviving your Jewish values.”

Currently, most of the Jews in Monroe are unaffiliated, said Zaklikovsky. “Those are the Jews we’re reaching out to,” he said. “It’s a unique community because of the demographics. The beautiful thing about it is that most of the people here have some kind of traditional background, so we hope to build on that.

“The Jewish experience in this town — it’s like a living history of the Jews of the last 100 years,” the rabbi said. “Right here in Monroe, you have Holocaust survivors, you have the children of survivors, you have immigrants, you have the generation of professionals. The diversity of the entire Jewish landscape is right here — so much history, so much experience.”

The challenge for the new Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe will be to bring that community into the fold, Zaklikovsky added. “It’s a big challenge, but a lot of opportunity,” he said. “There’s a great interest on behalf of the community, and we’re going to build on that. A new place brings new ideas, new programs, new excitement.

“It’ll be a steppingstone for a whole new level of development,” he said. “It’s a sign of permanence. We’re here to stay.”

The Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe will sponsor a Hanukka celebration on Monday, Dec. 13, at 5 p.m., at the new residence, 261 Gravel Hill Rd. in Monroe. For information about the programs and services of the center, call Zaklikovsky at 609-655-2200.

Marilyn Silverstein can be reached at
[email protected].

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