EDISON — The pandemic moment is the “silver lining” of what essentially brought together two groups respectful of the Jewish community.
Temple Emanu-El (TEE), which has been at 100 James St. for 60 years, is preparing to move to the Middlesex County Jewish Community Center (JCC) at 1775 Oak Tree Road.
On April 3, TEE worshipers will commemorate the joyous relocation with a “symbolic and spiritual” community-wide Torah walk, or “Walk to Worship.” TEE’s sacred scrolls will be taken from their home to their new home, about a mile away.
“We are so thrilled to connect with the JCC,” said TEE Spiritual Director/Cantor Emily Simkin. “What’s so exciting is that we’re literally taking our congregational scriptures into the future, into our next chapter.”
The relocation increases the synergy between the “religious, social and secular segments of our lives,” Simkin added, noting that she will be in spirit at the Torah March. Simkin and her husband are expecting their first child in a few weeks.
In 2019, the JCC, which has been in operation for 38 years, opened a new two-story expansion of approximately 11,000 square feet focused on all new program space, specifically for health and adult health programs. and adults in the center. wellness, arts and culture and socialization on the first floor and early childhood and special needs programs on the second floor.
In late February, the Edison Zoning Adjustment Board granted final site plan approval for the JCC to begin construction.
“Lo and behold, COVID came 12 days later and our expansion was put on hold,” said Adam Glinn, director of development at JCC. “We had been closed for several months and had not started construction. We didn’t even get the resolution from the Zoning Board [until months later] because after approving our candidacy at the February 25 meeting, they were closed for several months. They haven’t met.
In August 2020, Glinn received a phone call from someone on behalf of TEE to discuss the possibility of moving their congregation to the JCC campus.
Months and months of discussions between the executives and the respective lawyers of JCC and TEE followed.
“Ultimately, we came to an agreement on relocating TEE to campus and agreed to expand our expansion,” Glinn said.
TEE chairman Michael Leber said they decided to put their long-standing home on the market due to the state of major repairs needed. Hackensack Meridian Health is expected to take over the building.
They screened a number of properties in the area before deciding to build their new temple on JCC’s land, he said.
“It’s exciting to build a brand new home,” he said, noting that both TEE and JCC leaders recognize what each brings to the community. “It’s good tax sense.”
With that, the JCC will be back before the Zoning Board of Adjustment with a modified extension.
“Now [the expansion is] is going to be 21,000 square feet and that has been redesigned so that it can provide spaces for the temple to conduct its programs and services and be part of the community campus and be part of what would be the expanded facility,” Glinn said. .
Rituals and celebrations are planned for worshipers as they prepare to transition into the new space. This includes a special Purim celebration and a final Sabbath service on Friday evening April 1.
Post-pandemic, TEE’s nearly 200 families are hopeful, Simkin said.
“Change is hard, especially bittersweet,” she said of the move. “[The building] has so many memories, meaningful memories. The last six decades evoke feelings and emotions.
Glinn said he was excited about the partnership with TEE.
“I think it will be wonderful not only for the Jewish community, but also for bringing value to our greater community,” he said.
Prior to the move, the JCC made arrangements for the TEE.
“We have moved one of our preschool programs, we have moved some of our existing staff to new offices to shared offices so that we can identify and designate temporary spaces for [TEE’s] staff and we will work together on planning so that we can consider the programs and services they offer,” he said. “They are going to use our existing preschool classrooms. We have nursery school Monday to Friday every day. They have a religious school some nights so in the evenings they will be using our classrooms and they will be using some of our meeting spaces and that will continue until we use our new extension.
With the modified expansion, the JCC/YMCA and TEE are able to provide each other with opportunities ranging from shared lounge and meeting spaces to the TEE’s social banquet hall, Glinn said.
The JCC/YMCA and TEE collaboration is unique in its own way. While there are campus examples of several Jewish organizations sharing a campus across the country, the JCC is part of a unique collaboration with the YMCA, which was the first of its kind in the country.
“I chaired this collaboration 20 years ago to create the collaboration,” Glinn said. “This JCC/YMCA community campus is itself a unique collaboration, so the temple coming here adds to that uniqueness.”
The zoning board has not set a date for the amended expansion proposal. Glinn said that once everything is finalized, they expect construction to take around 18 months.
The estimated cost for the initial expansion was approximately $5 million. Glinn said they will have better control over costs once they get final approval for the revised site plan.
For the expansion, JCC has undertaken a fundraising campaign, which they will resume in the summer.
“We have suspended the campaign during COVID,” Glinn said. “It has fortunately been very successful so far. We will resume our support activities over the summer and then fund accordingly.
Before the pandemic, the JCC campus had approximately 8,000 members. Now the campus has less than 5,000.
“We’re about 60% of where we were before the pandemic,” he said. “It is slowly increasing over the months, but obviously we have all been significantly affected by the pandemic.
TEE invites all members of the Metuchen Edison Area Interfaith Clergy Association (MEAICA) to join them in their walk of worship. Several dignitaries are expected at a ceremony at CCJ.
After community members return to TEE, there will be a tie-dyeing event honoring the founding members in the 1960s and an outdoor barbecue.
Planning is still ongoing and pre-registration will be required.
For more information on TEE, visit www.edisontemple.orgcall 732-549-4442 or email email@example.com.
For more information about the JCC, visit jccmc.org.