This month SobelCo is shining the spotlight on Short Hills, the place that Congregation B’nai Jeshurun calls home.

In his well-known business book, “Built to Last,” author Jim Collins repeatedly makes the point that an organization that has survived and thrived for 50 years can be categorized as one with a sustainable legacy. Congregation B’nai Jeshurun surely passes this crucial test of time.

How it all began

Those who are familiar with Congregation B’nai Jeshurun today may not be aware of its extensive history. As long ago as 1848, a group of families from Central Europe arrived in New Jersey where they took up residence.  Recognizing their passion for perpetuating the Jewish tradition, they knew it was essential to establish a place to worship together. They began by renting rooms in Newark and at that moment Congregation B’nai Jeshurun (translated as ‘Children of the Upright’) was officially launched.

The move was popular and the congregation quickly expanded. In order to keep up with their rapidly growing membership, they moved first from Newark to South Orange and then finally settled in Short Hills in 1968 - over a century after its original founding in Newark.

The Short Hills location enabled the congregation to continue expanding and it also gave them the opportunity to create a beautiful building that inspires and motivates all who enter. From the Ark itself to the magnificent stained glass window which soars 80 feet high to the ten stained glass window panels that frame the sanctuary to the sky-light that stretches across its ceiling, the physical surroundings are breath-taking, leading to an unparalleled spiritual experience.  And in a nod to its own legacy, the exquisite ark doors, the eternal light, and the menorah are all relocated from the Newark facility.

Change drives success and sustainability

But for this congregation, more has changed over the decades than just the location and the magnificent building that now welcomes them to prayer. The first big evolution took place when the members agreed to leave their original Orthodox Judaism platform to instead embrace the more modern philosophy of Reform Judaism. In fact, this transition was firmly in place by the early 1900s, when B’nai Jeshurun  emerged as one of the nation’s leading Reform Congregations.

What does the Congregation look like in 2019?

At a time when many studies indicate both an overall decline in the religious landscape for families and a rise in non-affiliated families, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun can proudly point out that their membership has steadily grown. In fact, today they serve over one thousand families.  Their website sums up their response to this emerging trend, saying, “Living Jewishly in an ever-changing world is a challenge, which this historic Congregation will continue to meet for generations to come.”

They manage to accomplish this growth in the face of obstacles by attracting Jews-by-birth, Jews-by-choice, interfaith families, and traditional and non-traditional families, bringing them together to celebrate the Jewish faith and heritage, offering a wide range of services and events with appeal to all. These include adult scholarly workshops, artist in residence programs, musical offerings, and social clubs that enrich and strengthen the lives of those in the community.

Leadership with a vision and a mission

The Congregation continues to flourish under the effective guidance of Executive Director Marc Rothstein and the powerful and highly-regarded clerical team that includes Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz, Senior Rabbi, Cantor Howard D. Stahl, Senior Cantor, Rabbi Karen R. Perolman, Senior Associate Rabbi and Cantor Lucy B. Fishbein, Assistant Cantor.

Working as a team they have defined and encouraged the congregation to embrace the mission that is at the very core of B’nai Jeshurun, including holding fast to unshakeable faith in Judaism, a commitment to social justice (Tikkun Olam), a determination to promote the spirit of charity (tzedakah) and above all, engaging in the study of Torah.

It is this 120 year old dedication that forms the strong foundation that allows Congregation B’nai Jeshurun to continue its good work, continuously building its stature as leaders in the community.