Congregation looking to move from South River


Staff Writer

Almost 90 years ago, a building on Whitehead Avenue in South River became a religious hub, and began to draw worshippers from East Brunswick, Sayreville and Old Bridge to the borough.

Now, more than 50 years after moving the traditional, unaffiliated Jewish synagogue that is Congregation Anshe Emeth to its current Main Street location, its leaders are preparing for another move – one that borough and synagogue officials expect to be an end to an era as well as a new beginning.

“It’s a sad event,” Mayor Robert Szegeti said of the temple’s expected relocation. “But hopefully there will be a new chapter in the book of Congregation Anshe Emeth, and that everybody will live and prosper, and will regroup and go on from there.”

The 13,000-square-foot building and its 3,000-square-foot annex have been put up for sale with the asking price of $2 million.

Jane Pomerantz, vice president of the congregation and member for 30 years, is an agent with Davis Realtors of East Brunswick, and is handling the listing.

“With a dwindling congregation, the dues just don’t sustain the cost of running such a big building,” Pomerantz said. “The expenses just increase and our revenues have decreased, so that’s not a good situation.”

The congregation’s membership, once above 300 families, is now down to about 100 families.

But the members see this as an opportunity for a fresh start, possibly in East Brunswick, where most of the congregants are from, Pomerantz said.

“We really would like to relocate in East Brunswick, and I think that there’s a niche for our kind of congregation. There’s the reform temple, there’s the East Brunswick Jewish Center and the Young Israel, and we would be like a fourth option for people that are looking for our type of service,” Pomerantz said.

That service is a traditional service led by an Orthodox rabbi, Nathan Langer, and is the only one of its kind in the county.

Pomerantz said she has already been approached by area residents who said they would happily join the congregation if it indeed moved to East Brunswick.

“I think it’s a rebirth of a congregation, and I think some of us can teach some of the young ones a few things, and they can teach us some things,” Pomerantz said. “And it’ll be nice to have children around, and just a new start.”

Pomerantz said the congregation first considered selling the 3,000-square-foot annex and staying in the larger building, but that would not help to attract new members. Also, prospective buyers wanted the larger building.

Another option would be to merge with another area congregation. But because of the lack of traditional, unaffiliated synagogues in the area, Anshe Emeth would risk losing its identity.

“The truth is, we are such a cohesive group of people, and we’ve been there for so long together that we just want to stay together,” Pomerantz said. “We really want to keep it intact as Congregation Anshe Emeth, and I really think we can do that.”

Szegeti said that while years ago residents would move to the borough from surrounding towns, a large part of the Jewish community has moved out of town, and relocated in places like East Brunswick.

“So it’s a very difficult situation, and it’s unfortunate that the only way they can prosper is by selling the entire building, and maybe restructuring themselves,” Szegeti said. “South River was there before anybody else was.”

Szegeti said the temple has been a fixture in the Jewish community for so long that some members have dedicated most of their lives to the congregation’s well-being and the synagogue’s upkeep.

The community, he said, will certainly feel the absence of Anshe Emeth.

“When a house of worship so old disappears, it’s unfortunate because there’s history involved in the temple and the participation years back,” Szegeti said. “It’s a shame that that era, or that part of the history, has to close.”

Szegeti is himself a member of the congregation, and has attended services there since the first grade.

Though he has been a part of the congregation for over 40 years, there is one year in particular that stands out.

“1971 was my bar mitzvah,” Szegeti said, adding that he is proud to have led an event in such a historic place. “You feel at home in the temple.”

Szegeti said he hopes the congregation can navigate the “uncharted waters” of starting over in a new town, and keep its nucleus together while growing and expanding its membership.

Pomerantz said the congregation is confident it can thrive once again, though its members will never forget the synagogue’s roots in the borough.

“Things sometimes are meant to be, and I think that this – while it’s a sad thing, sad for South River and sad for the people with the memories there – it’s a good thing in one way, because I think we will be able to continue,” Pomerantz said. “I really believe we can do that.”