Under the capable and energetic leadership of Rabbi Joshua Hess, Linden’s Orthodox shul, Congregation Anshe Chesed, is experiencing tremendous growth in membership, and anticipates this trend to continue going forward. The local Orthodox community, as well as the city of Linden, are going through their own redevelopment plan, which is beginning
to attract a younger demographic. In seeking a shul to helm,
Rabbi Hess sought a community where he felt he could be influential in molding and nurturing the spiritual growth of the congregation, “from the ground up.” When the opportunity presented itself in the East Coast city of Linden, so close to New York City, he felt a calling.
In a recent Jewish Link interview, Rabbi Hess outlined his shared mission with the shul to make it the “most family-friendly shul on the East Coast.” He also expressed with candor his views on the importance, structure and quality of the youth programing. “It means we look to attract families who sincerely care about their Jewish future and are looking for meaningful experiences for them and their children.”
Hess continued, “Our youth program is structured to include play time, davening time and learning time. Groups start when davening starts, so parents can also get to shul on time.” The message is: “We are showing children that they’re as important as the rest of the congregation.” At the end of davening all the kids go into the main sanctuary and have the chance to go up and kiss the Torah during Anim Zemirot. Their excitement is palpable and it is clear that they love coming to shul, he noted.
Rabbi Hess hails from a Los Angeles family that emphasized a strong commitment to Torah and tefillah, ingraining in him the importance of community leadership. He studied at Ohr Yerushalayim for two years, attended YU for one year and completed his semicha at Ner Yisroel. He initially served in a rabbinic position for three years in Denver, Colorado, and is on the cusp of his ninth year at Anshe Chesed. Hess also holds double master’s degrees, one in Jewish history from Yeshiva University and the other in chaplaincy from The Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Asked to describe the greatest attributes of the shul, Rabbi Hess highlighted the “start-up feel of the shul, even though we are 104 years old.” This translates into the dual benefit of longevity with a depth of tradition and experience coupled with freedom to evaluate every facet of synagogue life and ensure a more positive and holistic Jewish experience. Anshe Chesed is widely recognized as a caring community, and one of the benefits of smaller communities is interdependence. “‘Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh’ is not just an abstract idea in this town. We live it every few minutes through our various WhatsApp groups and other means of communication,” he explained.
One of the components driving the success of the shul, according to Hess, is the affordability of the homes in Linden. Another plus is how centrally located Linden is, being a 45-minute drive to many major Jewish communities in the tri-state area. Transportation to the city via bus is right across the street from the shul; with the train station only a mile from the shul and multiple lines passing through Linden, the city is only about 35 minutes from Penn Station in NYC.
Combining these benefits with an energetic, warm and dedicated Jewish community creates a recipe for success. Anshe Chesed welcomed 10 new families into the community this past year and anticipates a repeat for next year.
The influence of the shul extends throughout the inclusive Jewish community in Linden, as well as the Linden community at large. The local councilmen and women are attentive to the shul’s needs, and Hess visits regularly with the mayor. It is a small community where the warm relationship between the local government and Jewish community is long-standing. Rabbi Hess also noted that their relationship with the non-Orthodox Jewish community is very strong. Recently, Anshe Chesed dedicated a gorgeous state-of-the-art mikvah, and has also promoted various kosher consumer options, including a kosher bakery in the ShopRite that has benefited Jews throughout Union County.
Anshe Chesed would like to announce that the next prospective member Shabbaton is scheduled for February 2, 2018. The shul looks forward to welcoming prospective families and young couples interested in checking out their community for a beautiful Shabbat experience. Please contact Dovid Helfgott, at [email protected], to arrange home hospitality for what promises to be a warm and wonderful Shabbat.
For more information about the shul and community, visit http://anshechesed.org.
By Ellie Wolf