1. What makes YOUR synagogue’s worship services special and worth my visiting?
Our prayer services are warm and participatory. We are a singing congregation, and our praying is marked by a certain spirit and flavor that emanates from the audible participation of the congregants. Even those less proficient in Hebrew-reading quickly learn the catchy contemporary melodies and traditional soulful tunes that we sing from week to week. Our prayers include a wide range of melodies that you will be humming in no time, and we vary our melodies to keep the prayer service robust and fresh. Our Cantor, Vadim Yucht, who also teaches all of our B’nai and B’not Mitzvah, is a masterful music facilitator and teacher. He encourages congregational participation, and it is common to have congregants read Torah and chant Haftarot with great facility. The entire Musaf Shabbat service is led by children and is filled with singing and “ruach” (spirit).
2. Are there services in addition to those in the main sanctuary?
Yes, there are. In addition to the regular Shabbat morning service, Temple Sholom has two other monthly services. One, called Shabbat B'yahad, is a celebration of Shabbat using song, games, plenty of lively singing and puppets. It is the perfect service for parents with younger children. There is also a Shababa learning minyan that affords children and adults opportunity to become acquainted with the Shabbat morning service and even participate in reading Torah. In addition, there are several Shabbat Shal-ohm services that combine “tefillah” (prayer), relaxation and Jewish yoga.
On Friday evenings from September through April, there is an early Likrat Shabbat Family service at the end of each month. This service includes a presentation that is more child-centered and is especially suitable for families with younger children. There are also teenage-led Youth services on Friday nights, where the teens lead services and host their own Oneg Shabbat. We also have an outdoor service under the stars each year in September accompanied by a Shabbat dinner.
Temple Sholom is also the only area Conservative synagogue to have a minyan twice a week that serves the entire Jewish community of Somerset County.
3. How open and friendly is YOUR synagogue to newcomers and interfaith couples?
Temple Sholom is a remarkably warm and friendly place. From the moment you walk into Temple Sholom you feel the difference–a warm welcome, collegiality and acceptance. You can be single married, divorced, or interfaith. You can be Torah-observant, not-yet-observant, growing and searching. Your accent does not matter. Our synagogue has been blessed from its inception with a sincerely friendly and warmly accepting orientation that emanates naturally from within people’s hearts. You can tell the difference quickly. That is where our synagogue’s wealth lies: in the people who comprise our congregational family.
4. Is there a dress code for attending Shabbat services?
No one is asked to dress a certain way when they come to Temple. When you show up to enter our House of God, you already are making a powerful statement, demonstrating a devotion level that is sacred. So, come as you may. That being said, we do believe that in keeping with Jewish tradition, modest festive dress for Shabbat and holiday is the most appropriate. Dressing is more casual during the summer months, when the weather is much warmer. You will see fewer ties and sport coats for men, but modest dress for both men and welcome is always most welcome.
5. What time are Shabbat services?
Friday evening services are at 8 p.m. The last Friday of each month is our Likrat Shabbat Family early service, which begins at 6:45 p.m. All Shabbat morning services begin at 9:30 a.m. and are usually finished by noon, depending on the length of the Torah portion and whether a unique celebration is happening.
6. Do you have programming for children?
Temple Sholom has an active Jewish Family Matters committee, which has designed programs for children and their families throughout the year. Its family programming has received several Solomon Schechter awards of excellence from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for outstanding family programming. There is a yearly Bar/Bat Mitzvah retreat where sixth graders and the parents join in a program to learn about the real meaning of becoming a Jewish adult, and being a responsible Jew.
Temple Sholom also boasts three outstanding Youth Groups: Shalom Chaverim, Kadima and U.S.Y. Shalom Chaverim is a youth group designed to be a first step before entering Kadima. Reaching out to our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, it is a place to reinforce Jewish values and to make Jewish friends. Kadima is the Temple’s Youth group for 6th through 8th graders. Activities include, social, athletic, religious and cultural events. United Synagogue Youth (USY) is the Temple’s Youth group for 9th through 12th graders. As a chapter of the HaGalil Region and International Organization, our youth participate in social, cultural, religious, educational and social action programs, locally, regionally and nationally.
7. Tell us something about your Temple’s educational programs.
We believe that every member of Temple Sholom ought to be engaged in ongoing learning. The Preschool Place and Kindergarten at Temple Sholom is the place to be for children. There are always fun things to do in this safe place, developmentally-appropriate and stimulating environment where children are encouraged to satisfy their natural curiosity. All teachers are certified and the school is not only licensed by the State of New Jersey, but also nationally accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Mazel Tots and Heritage Street are programs for two, three and four-year olds, which teach Jewish culture and emphasize Shabbat and holiday celebrations.
Primary Religious School for kindergarten through second grade meets for two hours on Sunday. Through music, art and age-appropriate activities, children are introduced to the Jewish holidays, prayer, the Bible, and the Hebrew language. The Primary program provides the foundation for more formal learning in the elementary grades.
Religious school for grades 3-7 meets on Sunday and one weekday. The curriculum focuses on Judaica studies: customs and ceremonies, , Jewish history, and Hebrew language (siddur and liturgy) The Religious School has a special needs program and many co-curricular activities.
8. What are your educational opportunities for teens and adults?
Hebrew High School, our award winning post Bar/Bat Mitzvah program directed by Ilene Cohen, Director of Youth Education and Engagement, prepares 8th-12th graders for their roles as adult members of the Jewish community. Through a balanced program emphasizing Jewish literacy, culture and contemporary issues, the high school fosters identity and continuity. Students also have an opportunity to choose from a variety of exciting electives. Co-curricular activities include a confirmation trip to the Lower East Side, special events, intergenerational programs and tzedakah and tikkun olam projects. The High School has been honored numerous times with Solomon Schechter awards from the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism.
Our adult Jewish educational programming is called Jewish LIFE (Learning is for Everyone), a collaborative Jewish education program created by the JCC, Rabbis lay leadership and Jewish agencies. It offers a diverse series of adult education courses and lectures. Both our Rabbi and Cantor offer courses in Jewish LIFE, including the very popular Bar/Bat Mitzvah Rediscovering Judaism for adults. To date, almost 200 adults have celebrated their B’nai and B’not Mitzvah at Temple Sholom after a two year program of study.
9. Does Temple Sholom have social action programs?
Absolutely! Our Mitzvah Committee organizes the “Mitzvah of the Month” project, usually associated with the Jewish holidays. Activities have included food drives, Thanksgiving turkey donations, holiday food baskets, collections of toys for Hanukkah, school supplies for needy children, Adopt-a-Road programs, and assistance to congregants with transportation, meals and shopping. Social action and “Gemilut Hasadim” is a priority at Temple Sholom. Through visits to nursing homes, support of local food banks, blood drives, and participation in walkathons to combat hunger, members of all ages demonstrate their commitment to helping others in our synagogue and in our community. Temple Sholom has a Bikkur Cholim Visiting of the Sick group which makes weekly visits to comfort and cheer hospital patients. Our Hevra Kaddisha (Holy Burial Society) is a group of volunteers who prepare our loved ones for burial according to Jewish law.
10. Why should I consider becoming part of the Temple Sholom family sooner rather than later?
The Temple Sholom family provides leadership to the entire Jewish community and are officers in our local J.C.C., the Ohr Tikvah Healing Center, and Hadassah, just to name a few. Our Temple leaders and professionals have a passion for excellence and are always striving to do better. Because Judaism at Temple Sholom is lived in an exciting, creative and joyous manner, and because it affords opportunities for people of all ages, it would make good sense to visit us and consider becoming a part of our ever- growing Temple family. Never content to rest on our laurels, we are always renewing ourselves by offering exciting new programs and various opportunities for participation. We will be there for you in times of joy, where we are so pleased to create meaningful celebrations of Jewish life cycle events such as “brit milah” (circumcision), baby namings, weddings and anniversaries. And we will continue to support you in times of sorrow, arranging worship services in homes of members for shiva and being there to support and comfort you.