SSTC’s Expanding Membership a Sign of a Community on the Rise
Michelle Ansel had spent the majority of her life on Staten Island. She grew up there, married there and was raising her family there. But Michelle and her husband, Jacob, decided the time had come to move to a new town and Jewish community.
With a son attending the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, the town just 20 miles outside of Manhattan was on their list of places to consider, but it was far from the only one.
All that changed when they attended last year’s Discover Suburban Torah Shabbaton.
“The Shabbaton gave us a real, genuine view into exactly what kind of Orthodox community Livingston is. That Shabbos was life-changing for our entire family,” says Michelle Ansel.
The Ansels and their three children, all of whom are now students in Kushner, are just one of a growing number of families who have moved to Livingston in 2015 and joined Suburban Torah Synagogue. In the last year, 10 new families have relocated to the area and made SSTC their home.
“Everyone fits in here and everyone knows each other,” says the shul’s religious leader, Rabbi Elie Mischel. “It’s a warm and personal place—everyone knows your kids and you know theirs. But, at the same time, the community is large enough for everyone to find their social circle. It’s a community with a small-town feel and the benefits of being close to New York.”
Founded in 1969, the Modern Orthodox synagogue has all the amenities for a strong Jewish community, including daily minyanim, shiurim, youth groups and more.
The shul is also home to the popular Iris Berman Early Childhood Center, which offers programming for newborns to pre-k, and draws families from neighboring West Orange and beyond. Mikvah Chana, a new, state-of-the-art mikvah, is just a few short blocks away, and across town is the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School.
New residents to the community receive breaks on their shul membership and are eligible for the new “Bonim” tuition package that is currently being offered by the Kushner schools. (Other aid packages are available as well for those who qualify.)
With a wide range of home prices and an easy commute to New York City, Livingston is a popular living destination for many young professionals who are ready to settle down and enjoy the suburban lifestyle.
Matt and Shellie Freedman weren’t exactly strangers to Suburban Torah when they came to the Shabbaton last year, Matt’s parents had joined the shul when Matt graduated from high school, but they were still very pleased by what they discovered.
“We thought everyone was very friendly and we were especially impressed by how warm and welcoming the rabbi is. We thought there was great energy when the young families came together, especially at the dessert event at a member’s home,” recalls Shellie Freedman. “We were expecting a baby at the time, and we enjoyed seeing all the young kids.”
Now the parents of 8-month-old Zachary, the Freedmans traded in their Upper West Side residence for a home in Livingston.
“We like that everyone goes to one shul, rather than the more fragmented communities which you find in other places,” Freedman says. “We also were attracted to the shul’s nursery school and Kushner Hebrew Academy.”
Indeed, it is the warmth and kindness of its members that stays with people, as a recent guest from Israel noted: “I asked people I knew to tell me about the community and they all said the same thing—it’s a very warm community.”
“My entire family will forever feel gratitude to the community as a whole and to the members individually,” says Ansel. “We have been welcomed with housewarming gifts, invitations to Shabbos meals almost every week and all throughout the chagim, and so many offers to show us around and run errands to help alleviate the stress of settling in. This is definitely the best community in the world. We are so lucky to have joined.”
For families who are considering a move and want to find out just why it is that people are choosing Suburban Torah and Livingston, SSTC will once again be hosting a Discover Suburban Torah Shabbaton for prospective members on April 1-2.
Noting that it’s a great way to get to know the community, Freedman suggests you “keep an open mind, talk to as many people as you can and have a great time!”
Adds Ansel, “If you can pull off a move, this is the community to join. There is absolutely nothing bad about living here. We have a brand-new extended family and we all feel extremely blessed!”
To learn more about the Shabbaton, visit www.suburbantorah.org/shabbaton or call 973-994-2620, ext. 221.
By Faygie Levy Holt