Local Congregation ‘That Could’ Moves To New Rental For Continued Growth

By Cheryl Conway

There will be more room for members and their guests this year for High Holiday services now that Congregation Beth Torah in Florham Park has relocated to a larger space to congregate.

The conservative synagogue had been functioning out of a small house at 165 Ridgedale Ave. since 1987. They decided to sell that property and have recently moved the shul a few blocks away to rent space at an office building at 215 Ridgedale Ave.

Members have been enjoying their new location and are looking forward to reestablishing programs like the Hebrew school and mahjong. The shul celebrated its first service at its new home on Fri., May 6.

“We are a shul in an office building,” says Susan Denholtz, president of Congregation Beth Torah. Knowing that there was space waiting to be rented in a vacant building, Denholtz says congregation leaders did not want to pass up a great opportunity.

“We wanted to maintain our presence in Florham Park; not being able to erect our own building, we decided to rent space in town,” she says. “We decided it was time for a change. We were in like a little house. It wasn’t in great condition.”

Congregation Beth Torah was in its former location for 30 years. “We owned it, had a mortgage and sold it,” explains Denholtz.

The makings of the congregation began in 1983 when a Livingston resident approached an Orthodox Irvington Synagogue about starting a new synagogue, Suburban Jewish Center. Community members starting meeting at the Florham Park Country Club and in houses. Fifty families contributed a down payment and in 1987, moved into 165 Ridgedale, which was a former carpet store, explains Denholtz.

“It was a little house but it was a carpet store,” she says. They changed its name to Congregation Beth Torah and maintained a conservative affiliation.

“It became our temple,” she says, with a Hebrew school, a part-time rabbi and a renovated kitchen.

With 30 family members strong, the new 2,300 sq. ft. space will be able to accommodate the members, as well as new families that join.   

“It’s a nice building; just right for us,” says Denholtz. “We wanted to maintain our presence in Florham Park” as most of the members do live in town. “It’s a small town; we are the only synagogue in town.”

As a member for 22 years, Denholtz describes the congregation as a “very relaxed atmosphere; we support each other in good times and bad. We are very close nit group. We are small but very active. We refer to ourselves as ‘the little engine that could.’ We are very close and very active and welcome new members to join in the fun.”

At the congregation, members enjoy adult education, sisterhood, holiday dinners. It plans to resume mahjong lessons and will introduce a tot Shabbat for children as well as Hebrew School.

“We had a very successful Hebrew School,” says Denholtz, but the last student will be celebrating his bar mitzva next month. “We hope new families move into town so we can resume that.”

Cantor Jonathon Comisar has been the cantor and spiritual leader of the congregation for the past two years. Denholtz describes him as a “musical genius” who is “very spiritual.”

Denholtz says of Comisar, “he’s young and he infused new life into us. Younger than we’ve had in the past,” he has “infused new ideas, very forward thinking and very spiritual and there’s always music.”

Excited about upcoming services, Denholtz says “High Holidays this year will be in our own space, newly renovated, all new everything.” Last year, as in the past five to six years, holiday services have been held at a hotel. The former building was able to accommodate Friday night services, but not High Holiday services when extra family members and guests attend.

“We are very happy, we will be having it in our own little home,” says Denholtz.

For information about Congregation Beth Torah and participation in future events, call congregation President Susan Denholtz at 973-377-6020; visit congregationbethtoraahnj.org.

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