Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of articles written in cooperation with the Young Israel of Fort Lee about the growth of the shul and community. In this installment, we profile three families who tell why they have chosen to make their homes in Fort Lee.
Rabbi Mark and Linda Karasick called Teaneck home for over 40 years. Looking to downsize, they turned to Fort Lee. It was a hard decision, Linda Karasick noted. “Teaneck served us and our children beautifully, but we travel extensively and with the kids out of the house it was time to move to smaller accommodations.”
Now they have the best of both worlds. “Fort Lee is a lovely community and growing nicely,” Linda said. “I’m still in Teaneck at least once a day, shopping or visiting friends. It’s still very much a part of our lives.”
The Karasicks were overwhelmed with the warmth of the Young Israel shul from the first Shabbos when they came as prospective newcomers. “We could hardly daven because so many people came over to introduce themselves and welcome us,” said Linda. “Rabbi Goldberg’s leadership has been instrumental in encouraging members to reach out to new faces. “The rabbi is exceptional in the way he greets every person on Shabbos. We had a Kiddush welcoming 15 new families. He gave a drasha with concrete examples of how people in shul should welcome newcomers, like introducing yourself and inviting someone new for a meal.”
The Karasicks have been in Fort Lee less than a year and have quickly made themselves at home—like all the others they have met in Young Israel of Fort Lee. “Everyone you speak to, whether they’ve been here a month or 20 years raves about the community and the shul. People are very happy.”
The Karasicks found a living situation that suited them perfectly: a townhouse in a condo setting. They have beautiful views of the Hudson River, the New York City skyline and the meticulously landscaped grounds. “We saw it on a Friday and placed a bid on Sunday,” Linda recalled. “When we first moved in, it felt like a hotel. Now it feels like a resort. The services provided are extensive. And we see the kids more here than when we lived in Teaneck. They love the pool and use the facilities in the building very often.”
Myra and Harry Wild were also ready to downsize, after living in Riverdale for most of their lives. At the advice of friends, they explored Fort Lee and rented an apartment in a building across from the Young Israel to test the waters. “We loved it here so much, we bought in an adjacent building,” he said. Although Harry had thought he would never move to Fort Lee, now he can’t imagine living anywhere else—at least when he’s not in his Florida apartment.
The shul has been a wellspring of spiritual and communal resources. “This is by far the warmest community and shul I have ever davened in,” Harry said. “Rabbi Goldberg and his wife Michal are phenomenal people.” Harry noted the rabbi’s uncanny ability to give shiurim and create programs that draw people in from all Jewish backgrounds. Both Harry and Myra were brought up in the Modern Orthodox community and feel very comfortable in the shul.
Harry was a shul member for only six months before he was asked to join the board. Volunteering is “the nature of the community,” he said. “If there’s a need, everyone is there, whether it’s planning a meal for someone sitting shiva or housing and feeding guests.”
As chairman of the long-range-planning committee, Harry is pleased to see younger people moving in as well as the empty nesters of his generation. “We have a lot of interaction with the younger members and are thrilled they are joining our community. We have a lot of plans to attract young people and involve them in the programming and running of the shul.”
Born and raised New Yorkers, Harry and Myra love the city but hate driving in it. Fort Lee gives them easy access. “We go to the theater, dinner or a museum, get on a bus and in half an hour we’re back home. It’s so convenient it’s unbelievable,” Harry said. It’s also centrally located for anyone with children in Long Island, Teaneck, Fair Lawn and Englewood. And Fort Lee itself has a lot to offer. “We avail ourselves of the library and the community center, which has interesting programs. It’s a nice ethnic mix, too; it’s a lovely community.”
The Wilds already had a group of friends here and made many more. “We bonded instantly,” Harry said, making particular mention of monthly pot luck dinners in each other’s homes, and the sit-down kiddush lunches in shul. “People continually socialize with each other. It’s very down to earth. People don’t believe in putting on a show. They’re totally open, candid and honest.” The friendships made at shul have blossomed into a full social life. “We’re always doing something with our friends from shul; we go to the theater and dinner and play golf. There’s always something going on.”
While the Karasicks and Wilds moved to Fort Lee to downsize, Michael and Amy Burnett chose to raise their family here. After growing up in East Brunswick and marrying, the couple moved to Fort Lee in 2012, the closest point in New Jersey to Michael’s job at West Point. Two years later, they moved to Closter where they had all the usual suburban accoutrements—a house and a big back yard—but something was missing. “It felt like we were on an island,” Michael said. “It was very isolating.”
While living in Closter, they stayed in touch with friends who still lived in Fort Lee. “A friend from the old building told me how he goes to the shul on Thursday nights for the rabbi’s shiur and asked me to come,” Michael recalled. “The comradery of the young guys there and the openness of Rabbi Goldberg brought me back. I enjoyed the community aspect.” They moved back to Fort Lee two and a half years ago.
“Nobody is judgmental in the shul,” Michael said. “It can be intimidating if you didn’t grow up Orthodox but it’s very welcoming here.” Michael added that Amy is involved with many of the shul’s activities for women. “She’s not just the wife of a member, she’s involved as a member, too,” he added.
Going back to apartment living wasn’t difficult for the Burnetts; it was better. The family recently bought an apartment at Mediterranean Towers. “We spend more time in the back here, at the pool, meeting other residents,” Michael said. “The kids have friends in the building; they’re having a great time. My parents are empty nesters and we’re trying to get them to move here, too.”
They love the vitality of Fort Lee. “Main Street is starting to explode,” said Michael. “The renaissance in Fort Lee is phenomenal; I wouldn’t have said that two years ago. I have friends in the area, my business is in New York, and the proximity to the city is great. It makes sense to be here.”
Young Israel of Fort Lee is holding an informal breakfast at 10:00 a.m. on November 5 for anyone who wants to know more about the shul and community. For more information, or to RSVP, contact the shul at [email protected].
By Bracha Schwartz