The building that houses the basement shul is located at 510 East 27th Street, Paterson, New Jersey (between 11th/12th) across from Rosa Parks School two blocks off Broadway/Rt. 4 West in Passaic County.
Here's a link to the Federation Apartments Facebook page. They are happy to take inquiries about the facility and what it has to offer the men or women 62 years or older.
Construction of Federation Apartments was completed in 1972.
Gerard Berman purchased this property to create affordable housing in the Jewish community.
I recently found out that the Reverend, Joseph Fooks was the founder of the minyan and went to great lengths to keep the minyan going in the early years.
This is simple website created to keep the memories of Jewish life in Paterson alive and well, simply because there still is Jewish life today (2016) where residents from the building have been part of a basement Minyan in the basement of the Federation Apartment building… since the mid-1970s.
Of course a “shul” consists of a cast of characters, real ones, including congregants (men and women), cantors/chazzan’s, those who read the Torah portions, people who take care of the facility and volunteers. The only element you might say is missing is rabbinic leadership. While there is no rabbi, it is the lay leaders and Gabbai’s, who stepped forward throughout the last five decades have gone to great lengths and have taken every measure to follow the path of an Orthodox Minyan. Congregants come from many Jewish backgrounds, but seem to find common ground in this format.
Click here to be added to an email chain we started to find out when we have scheduled minyan services on a Shabbat or Holiday. We hope you can join us once, twice, or many times throughout the year. Membership is free. Donations and Kiddush sponsorships are always welcome. The “shul” operates under the aegis of the Jewish Community Housing Corporation, a 501c3 organization.
We are also interested in hearing from you on your connection to Paterson, New Jersey – whether you grew up there, had a relative or friend who grew up there, or found something that could help us put together any missing pieces of the history of the Minyan at Federation Apartments.
My name is Jerry Schranz. I live in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I currently carry the “Gabbai” torch which has been passed down throughout the years. It means I help assemble the minyan, find someone who prepares for the Torah reading, and recruit others to walk and join a group of seniors who live in Federation Apartments. While it’s a true honor to do this, I get a lot of help from the residents and all the wonderful people who volunteer their time and efforts, even when I am not at the Minyan.
With that in mind, I have to give great Kavod first to all the people who proceeded me. All the volunteers and shul goers, Ba’al Koreh’s, Chulent cookers, Menorah lighters, Megillah readers, administrators, janitorial staff, and to those who are no longer with us in this world.
Some of these names include: Reverend Joseph Fooks, Roman Singer, David Gizunterman, David Berman, Beth Berman, Shimon Berman, the Berman Bunch, Sam Heller, Avi Heller, Michael Heller, Reuben Udem, Isaac and Roza Meryam, Bill Brown, Lenny Kommit, Chuck Lehmann, Miron Fridman, Sarah Fishgoff, Rephael Hirsch, Covey Schnipper, Zach Rothblatt, Daniel Schoenburn, Jason Schoenbrun, R’ Sonny Gershon, Michael Goldschvartz, Reuven Herzog, Dr. David Nussbaum, Leon Rosenblum, Abe Adler, Rabbi Laurence Rothwachs, Andy Schultz, Boris Kagan, and the list continues to grow today.
It’s a true honor to be able to share with you the story of The Paterson Shul at Federation Apartments.
While you might find this all very fascinating already, and learning of Jewish life in Paterson altogether, the story that has captured the hearts and minds of many recently revolves around two Torah scrolls which have become the center of attention not only in the synagogue but also in a restoration project that we ambitiously started in Spring of 2015.
A short history first:
This building went up in 1972 through the vision of Gerard Berman, who transformed the site of a defunct synagogue into an affordable housing complex for low income seniors who lived in Paterson or who had emigrated from Europe and the former USSR. The building is located directly across the street from the former Yavneh Academy grade school (which merged with the Talmud Torah Academy in the 1940s). While the leadership at Yavneh coordinated Shabbat minyanim for residents who only had to cross the street, they enjoyed a great bond between the children and the seniors. Many of the prayer books and memorabilia were gifted to Federation Apartments at the time Yavneh moved to Paramus, New Jersey (about four miles away) in 1982. Until recently, not much had been publicized or widely known about what lead to the minyan today and to the founding members of the Paterson minyan.
There are approximately 60 Jewish individuals who live in the building, some have lived here for close to three decades, some only a few years. While that number might seem high, it’s an aging population and not everyone participated in the Minyanim. Anywhere from five to eight men are regulars as well as two to three women join us when a Minyan is confirmed. It’s amazing to see countess others join for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.
There have been family members visiting their parents, ante’s, uncles, grandparents or even great grandparents here over the years but many of the people who walk to the Minyan today have no connection other than the opportunity to complete the minyan, do a true Mitzvah and volunteer their time. This is what makes this synagogue so unique and forever a testament to our heritage.
It’s hard not to get goosebumps when you first enter this small but comfy synagogue. It has a distinct look and smell. There is a wooden Bimah for the Chazzan, a wooden Ark housing two beautifully-restored Torah scrolls, bookshelves with prayer books in Hebrew, English, Russian and Yiddish, several rows of chairs on both sides of the Mechitzah that separates seats for men and women, a small area with a refrigerator, a Chulent pot, and a table where a small and modest Kiddush is prepared after services. Hanging on the walls are flags of the United States of America and the flag of the State of Israel, alongside various portraits and artwork that might make it feel like a museum, but also a few memorial plaques honoring those who have left this world. The Bimah cover has a simply star of David and honors a man named Aaron Staretz. The Ark has a lonely plaque affixed on it honoring a man named Roman Singer. On top of the ark is a three dimensional work of art that turns into a Menorah on if you walk to the left, a lion if you walk to the right and the image of the ten commandments from the center. The Parochet is the only item which has been replaced and interestingly enough does not memorialize any name or group, rather it serves as a living tribute to those who volunteer their time and efforts to make the Minyan over the years, past and present.
Along with the plaques on the wall is a composition notebook that sits in a drawer that contains a list of Yahrtzeit dates and the names of people who have been memorialized. This list is cross indexed to carefully remind the congregation to hold up a Torah scroll and say the Kel Maleh Rachamim prayer, to give their soul an extra Aliyah or boost.
There’s also a handwritten list of names of those who need current prayers of healing (Refuah Shleimahs) which are read out loud during the Shishi Aliyah in the break in the Torah readings. It is read for men and women by their Hebrew names or native language names. There is also a list of soldiers and even those who are missing or held in captivity that are read aloud during the Mussaf prayers which include prayers for the welfare of the United States, State of Israel, the Israeli Defense Forces and soldiers who protect the Jewish nation in Israel and in the exodus.
You can’t help but stare into outer space sometimes. The services are lead by people of all talents. From an experienced Chazzan to someone who infrequently leads services, this is a place where everyone is involved and finds a role they may not have fulfilled in another synagogue. It’s been a first for me to read a HofTorah and to lead Rosh Hashanah services, it’s also a place where a 93-year-old man did Hagbah for the first time in more than 50 years. Incredible. It’s also a place where the Torah is paraded from the men’s section to the women’s section where the women get to kiss the Torah as the Chazzan makes his way to and from the ark.
Honors are given out to everyone to open and close the ark, to lift the Torah, to wrap the Torah, to be called up to the Torah, or to read the Halftorah. We hold the Torah up for the prayers for the new months (Rosh Chodesh) and we bring out two Torah scrolls for other occasions.
Without the Torah scrolls there wouldn’t be a Minyan. While people can pray and look into prayer books, it is only through the fulfillment of reading and hearing the Torah being read is our heritage perpetuated.
In Paterson, people formed synagogues based on common religious practices or same old-world origins.
Paterson’s shuls ranged in size and formality from meeting in someone’s house to a storefront to a mega shul that resembled a movie theater with grand balconies and grand ball rooms. The level of observance also varied with Reformed, Conservative, Conservadox and Orthodox. The synagogue became the focus of individual communities interacting and participating with one another.
The shuls that rose up in Paterson since the turn of the last century also helped support the newly formed state of Israel by collecting money and clothes and providing moral support. They sold Israel bonds and brought over Israeli messengers (shleachs) to teach in the Hebrew Schools. Secular Jewish life was also fairly large and they organized Yiddish-language schools to continue to teach culture. They did this with much fervor.
One of the earliest shuls was Bnai Jeshurun formed in 1847 as an Orthodox shul started by German Jewish merchants. One of the first Hebrew schools was chartered in 1895 and was named after Paterson’s first Jewish mayor beginning in 1876. You may recognize the name Barnert Hospital, the Miriam Barnert Hebrew Free School or Barnert Temple which is in Wyckoff, New Jersey today just off Rt. 208. He also founded Daughters of Miriam (named after his wife) though he did not have any daughters nor sons, sadly. He died in 1927.
The city of Paterson dedicated a statue to him in 1925 which is in front of city hall. Through the next several decades, Jewish life thrived in Paterson, with businesses in the silk and tailor industries to electric supply houses and even butchers, restaurants and movie theaters run by Jewish proprietors. In the 1960s and 1970s a wave of civil unrest around the country found a way to penetrate Paterson and life started to look better in other suburbs including Elmwood Park and Fair Lawn, Paramus and anywhere east of Paterson.
As the years went by Jewish life in Paterson dwindled rapidly but Jewish life remained in many of the family businesses that remained. Today there are still businesses owned, managed or run by Jews. I’ve come to meet some of those people, and even the Jewish Historical Society of Northern New Jersey (which up until November 2015) was housed in the basement of Barnert Hospital in Paterson, just a few blocks from Federation Apartments – also moved to Fair Lawn. I like to call it Aliyah. There is also a Yeshivah for post high school Ultra-Orthodox men in the vicinity. Though they are only several blocks away from Federation Apartments, the group rarely makes it out. They came to help us during occasions and we welcome the opportunity for them to join us in the near future.
Only one of the old synagogues remains visible today – the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and 33rd Street, which is the remains of Temple Emmanuel. Today it is not being used but the Hebrew letters can be found etched on the stone façade. A few years ago the stained glass windows were still adorning the building, but they were removed and relocated to Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. While I miss seeing the windows, I’m sure that this magnificent building served the religious and spiritual needs of so many people. I had the good fortune of meeting with the descendants of Rabbi Panitz, who are glad to hear of the Paterson minyan at Federation Apartments.
We are looking for people to join us to Minyan services and we have a Google doc that you can keep tabs on weeks we have a minyan Saturday mornings at 9a.m. Please sign-up for the Google doc with me at: JerrySchranz@gmail.com
Here's how the new Parochet for the Ark came out. It was chosen with the assistance of Sandy Eckstein executive director of Federation Apartments as well as in part by inspiration by David Berman from the days he used to honor us with Musaf prayers with the words in the Mishaberach prayer. We changed the first letter to a Lamed. Come join us for a minyan and you will really enjoy your stay.
Here are some photos of how the shul looked just a few months ago:
From the Bimah you can see we are interested in a new Parochet (cover) for the Bimah and the Ark.
Update as of August 3, 2015: I made contact with the family connected with Aaron (and Esther) Staretz - who dedicated their time and efforts for the Yavneh Academy years ago. We have been davening on the bimah with the name Aaron Staretz memorialized and we are working with the family to expand the bemah cover to meet the new proportions which were installed just before Rosh Hashanah!
Looking over to the women's section -note our Mechitzah
View from the Women's section
Our Talis rack and Siddurim/Chumashim area
Our Kiddush area
A gift from the Moriah school
A painting of the building by Reuben Udem, one of the residents who joins us for Minyan
Update as of August 1, 2015: I have been in touch with the Rosenblum family and understand that Mr. Leon Rosenblum was a generous man who donated his time and funds years ago to help beautify the shul in the early days. He passed away in 2005 but we continue to honor his contributions to the shul.
This plaque was dedicated in memory of Cara Mychele Hirschman, by her grandparents Joseph & Marcia Fooks, who are founders of the minyan.
I have been in touch only recently (Nov. 2015) with the daughter, Risha ad son-in-law Ray, who are thrilled we are keeping the minyan going.
Memorial Plaque #1 - If you know any of these names or have a connection to these names, please be in touch with me at JerrySchranz@gmail.com
This plaque was dedicated in memory od David Gizunterman by his family. I have been in touch with his son Semyon who described Mr. Gizunterman as a beloved man by all the residents and shul-goers. Semyon comes to the minyan at least once a year for Yahrtzeit.
Memorial Plaque #2 - If you know any of these names or have a connection to these names, please be in touch with me at JerrySchranz@gmail.com
Memorial Plaque #3 - If you know any of these names or have a connection to these names, please be in touch with me at JerrySchranz@gmail.com
The Ner Tamid and a special little frame that has a tradition every time we open the Ark.
We are in need of a new Ner Tamid if you or anyone can assist with funding it please be in touch: