For those considering a move to Middlesex County, visiting Congregation Ohr Torah and the surrounding Edison/Highland Park community is a great place to begin. Esteemed Rabbi Yaakov Luban works day and night to make Ohr Torah (OT) a premier Modern Orthodox synagogue. Luban notes that the term “modern” implies engagement with the greater community instead of being somewhat insular and isolated.
Located in Edison, on the Highland Park border, OT is one of eight local Orthodox shuls, all of which work together to create a strong Jewish community. Now boasting 250 families, OT is composed of a diverse population of younger and middle-aged congregants, as well as retirees, all of whom work hard to attract new young families. At OT there are four minyanim on Shabbos, including a young family minyan and a youth minyan for teenagers, both of which are always well attended. Additionally, the shul board has a strong representation from the congregation’s younger people, giving them a voice in shaping the shul’s future.
The shul offers monthly classes for retirees, with programming which includes dynamic speakers and interesting films. OT also offers numerous religious classes and hosts scholars-in-residence, appealing to all with its positive environment and harmony with the greater community. OT congregants are politically minded, with many members who make missions to Washington, D.C., for both NORPAC and AIPAC.
Rabbi Luban says that he learned the art of being a rabbi from his father, Rabbi Marvin Luban, the religious leader of Young Israel in Forest Hills. The senior Rabbi Luban taught his son the proper way of working with people based on his unique sensitivity, which his son believes has been central to his being a successful rabbi.
Luban works 12-hour days in the city; therefore, an all-volunteer staff keeps OT running during the weekdays. The synagogue has three morning and three evening weekday minyanim. Luban attributes the success of OT to the devotion of the people in the congregation as well as its welcoming environment.
Edison and Highland Park are part of a community which is under the religious supervision of the Va’ad of Raritan Valley, which has authority over a number of kosher establishments in the area. The eight rabbis work in harmony, even speaking at each other’s synagogues on occasion. Luban feels that the vitality of OT is based on unity within the congregation, the community and the rabbis. Currently, OT is interviewing candidates for the position of assistant rabbi, as the shul has grown to the point where such a position is warranted.
Speaking about his early years at Congregation Ohr Torah, Luban remarked that the shul was in its infancy when he was looking for a pulpit. With his wife, Faigie, by his side, he was hired in 1982 to lead a small shul of only 30-40 families. They were davening in a gymnasium of the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY), from which they rented space. Soon realizing they needed a permanent home, they began the process of gaining municipal approval. It took a number of years, according to Luban, to gain said approval and raise the funds to purchase the property across the street from the yeshiva, where the shul has stood for nearly 20 years.
Luban finds the rabbinate “a meaningful career,” and has used that career to touch the lives of his congregants and, with their help, transform OT into the warm and vibrant synagogue that it is today.
By Sharon Mark Cohen