Joy expressed at growth of Perrineville synagogue


Staff Writer

MILLSTONE – The Perrineville Jewish Center has learned to measure its success by its congregants’ happiness.

Seeing a 10 percent increase in its membership over the past year and satisfaction on the faces of all those attending synagogue services, the center’s president, Wendy Heifetz, said the synagogue must be doing something right.

Just last year, Heifetz expressed that the Perrineville Jewish Center (PJC), located on Perrineville Road in the Perrineville section of Millstone since 1910, was worried because membership seemed to be declining. Since then, however, the synagogue has made some programming changes and has seen a boost in membership.

“Last year, we started asking people who didn’t want to join why they didn’t want to join and found that people weren’t joining for a number of reasons,” Heifetz said.

Heifetz said people wanted a one-day-a-week Hebrew school rather than the traditional two-day-a-week program. She said the synagogue also discovered that people who enroll their children in Hebrew school want them to learn more about the cultural aspects of Judaism as well.

“They want their children to learn what it means to be a Jew, rather than just Hebrew,” Heifetz said. “They want them to know what it is to be Jewish, why they are Jewish and how Judaism differs from other religions.”

The synagogue now offers Hebrew school one day a week from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Thursdays. In addition, it offers a once-a-month Jewish culture event for Hebrew school students.

Heifetz said the cultural event takes place on Sundays. During a recent cultural event, the students learned how to make shofars, which are rams’ horns used during the celebration of Rosh Hashana, which is the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This month, the students will actually bake challahs, which are special breads for Friday night Shabbats.

Susan Kapit, the vice president of publicity for PJC, said the cultural events make Hebrew school much more interesting and fun for kids.

“We want them to enjoy Hebrew school and have them look forward to coming there instead of thinking it’s just more school, which makes them not want to attend,” Kapit said.

Since the change in programming, Heifetz said Hebrew school has had 100 percent attendance.

Heifetz added, “We wanted to have [the children] do things that they will always remember, and they love it.

Kapit said the synagogue has also seen recent changes to the Saturday services it holds once a month. She said the services are family services, which everyone can participate in.

“We tried to gear it more toward kids,” Kapit said. “Women and children can also participate in the services.”

Heifetz said, “The most important thing we’ve accomplished this year that we are so proud of is that our services are fun.”

The PJC also offers Friday night services.

“Everyone participates, everyone understands the service, and we have standing-room-only crowds where people can just enjoy each other’s company,” Heifetz said.

Because some of the service is performed in English, it is easier for the children to understand, she said.

Heifetz said that when she attends the new services, she feels more like a part of the Jewish community than she ever felt before.

“We are joining together to pray to God, and it makes you feel good,” she said.

Kapit said the PJC “feels like home to me.”

“When I walk through the doors, I just feel like ‘Ahh, it just feels good to be here.’ When I sit down for services with my husband and my children and friends, I just feel at home.”

Heifetz said that being a part of the synagogue means that there will also be someone there in times of great need, such as when someone is ill or there has been a death in the family.

“Everyone in the synagogue joins together to help out families in need,” she said.

Kapit added, “Other places may be bigger or prettier, but this place just feels right.”

In the past year, the synagogue also raised enough money to purchase its first Torah from Israel. Rabbi Sheldon Schevelowitz, who has been at the synagogue for the past 17 years, conducts the services. His wife, Sarah, is also very active in the temple.

“One of the things that is different at our synagogue than in most synagogues is that the rabbi prepares each student for his or her bar or bat mitzvah,” Heifetz said. “Some temples double- or triple-book [bar and bat mitzvahs], and when the students have to share it’s awkward. Here each child gets a weekend [to himself or herself]. What’s really important is that Rabbi Schevelowitz makes each child feel so special on their day.”

Looking forward, Heifetz said the PJC anticipates having an active youth group next year. The group will offer various trips and other social events for the Hebrew school graduates.

“We tried to have one in the past, but we’re looking to expand on that idea,” Heifetz said.

The synagogue also plans to have Hebrew school reunions for past graduates of the PJC program. In addition, the center is beginning the initial stages of planning for its 100th anniversary, which it will celebrate in 2010.

“We’re hoping to have a big gala affair,” Heifetz said.

The synagogue will hold an open house on Dec. 3 combined with a breakfast and “Shopping Spree,” where local vendors will have items for sale such as jewelry, knits, toys, crafts and Tupperware.

On Dec. 10, the synagogue will throw its annual Hanukkah party with homemade latkes, or potato pancakes, and entertainment including singing by Boris Vionov, one of the temple’s newest members who used to sing with the Moscow Synagogue Choir.

Perrineville Jewish Center is always looking for new members.

“Everyone is made to feel welcome and comfortable here,” Heifetz said. “We have such a friendly and warm group of people here that really enjoy being together, and we would welcome anyone who would want to join us.”

For more information about the synagogue, visit