Temple Beth El Has Closed, But It is Not Gone

15 Jan

I was sad when I learned through a North Bergen Facebook group that after 91 years, Temple Beth El on 75th Street in North Bergen was closing. This synagogue was where I spent most of my childhood, from third grade until I married. Right across the street from Robert Fulton Elementary School, Temple Beth El is where I spent four days each week in Hebrew School after I finished my secular classes.

I remember going to synagogue for holidays and Shabbat. I loved going when I was young because my great Uncle Leo and Tanta Esther belonged to Beth El. And Uncle Leo always had candy in his pocket. When we came to services he would slip us some candy. Uncle Leo was a very quiet man with a German accent. But when he put his hand in his suit jacket and brought out a sweet, a gentle smile would come over his face as he said, “here.” And handed over the candy.

When my brother and I would go by ourselves as we prepared for our confirmation classes, Uncle Leo was still there. And even though we were in our early teens, we made sure to sit next to him to get our candy!

I remember Cantor Ovstbaum and Rabbi Sidney Nissenbaum. The Cantor  wrote a Purim Spiel play using the melodies from the opera, “Carmen.” I can still sing some of the lyrics to these songs: “My name it is Vashti,” “Ahasverus, I the Glorious,” “Haman’s Seven Sons are We,” and more. I remember Ella P. who was Queen Esther. And my friends who all got singing parts like Shashi. I was not allowed to sing. But I still loved and remember those songs!

Walking to services with my Dad was fun. I especially enjoyed going to services for Succot, when they built the Succah in the small parking lot across the street from the synagogue.   I have so many good memories of the shul, the people, and my many friends who went there with me.

So when I read it was closing, I felt the pangs and sadness of the end to an era. It was a closure that completed with the deaths of my parents, another part of my childhood forever gone.

But then I had a revelation! I got a letter in the mail, which changed my feelings.

When my parents moved from North Bergen to Cliffside Park, they joined Temple Israel on Edgewater Road. My parents became extremely active in this congregation. My Dad served as president for 11 years! It was Rabbi Engelmeyer and the Cantor Peter and the congregants who were so kind to my parents as they aged and helped my Dad so much after my Mom died.   I loved the people of Temple Israel.

At Temple Israel in 2006. My Dad is with a scribe as they work on repairing older Torah scrolls.

At Temple Israel in 2006. My Dad is with a scribe as they work on repairing older Torah scrolls.

Although I never belonged there, I went to many services there with my parents and always heard so much about it whenever I spoke to my parents. It was at Temple Israel where we had a memorial service for my Mom. It was at Temple Israel that we endowed a library for my parents. It was at Temple Israel that we put up memorial plaques for my parents.

These two congregations were important to me even though I now live in Kansas. I still send donations several times a year in honor of my parents’ and other relatives’ yahrzeits.

So my revelation?   Temple Beth El was not closing. NO! It was merging with Temple Israel.   The new name is Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades!

My Dad would be so happy. Throughout his years as president and board member, he was always searching for ways to keep the congregation alive and financially sound. With the combining of these congregations, perhaps they both will survive.

And in my mind, my Dad had a celestial part in the merging of these congregations. With Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades the memory of my parents and my childhood continues.   Perhaps Uncle Leo never went to services in this sanctuary. But my parents and my siblings and my cousins and my parents friends all have sat there. I can close my eyes and see so many loved ones who are no longer with us.

Temple Beth El is not gone, even though many of the Jewish population have left North Bergen. It is still close by in another form. It has changed with time, as we all do. But it lives in my mind.

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3 Responses to “Temple Beth El Has Closed, But It is Not Gone”

  1. Amy January 15, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    The merger of synagogues is apparently a nationwide phenomenon. When we moved to our town in 1983, there were three Orthodox, two Conservative, and one Reform synagogue. Now there is one of each, all the Orthodox merging into one congregation, the two Conservative into one, and the one Reform still one, but much smaller than it once was. I don’t know whether it is that young people aren’t affiliating or are just living in the cities.

  2. susan solomon bernstein June 2, 2016 at 5:32 pm #

    my dad Julie Solomon was president of Temple beth- el for several years amd my mother anita solomon was president of the sister hood- my brothers had their bar mitzvah there and my sister and i were confirmed.- rabbi nissenbaum and cantor obstbaum were our spiriitual leaders- _ we spent many years attending different functions as kids and adults and have good memories since the children’s programs were quite extensive then-i was married there and my son had his bris there-as well as the naming of my daughter–although my dad died in 1981 my mom continued to volunteer in the temple office and remained a member well into her 80’s- i remember when we were in the old temple sitting separate from the men before the new modern temple was built and became conservative- with the change in demographics and the congregation depleting things will change but as you say the memories are forever-
    susan solomon bernstein

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