In the second decade of the twentieth century a small group of young Jewish individuals began meeting to discuss their desire for new ways to express more liberal views of religious observance than was possible through the existing Orthodox traditions. Under the guidance of Rabbi Max Maccaby, of the Jewish Institute of Religion, they met weekly, not only for prayer, but also for an ongoing dialogue on how to combine more modern religious observance with their Jewish heritage.
With support from Rabbi Steven S. Wise, and encouraged by their growing enthusiasm, they took the first steps to form Temple Emanu-El of Englewood in October 1928 by taking out a charter to incorporate the new Temple. The mission of this nascent religious community was: “to perpetuate the religious growth and development of Judaism and to interpret the teachings of Israel of the past in light of the present; to develop the strength and love of our faith in the hearts of our children and in every way to spread the ideals of Israel; to encourage social service, religious observance, and develop the moral, mental, and physical welfare of its members and families; and to maintain a center for the cultivation of Jewish thought and action.”
Over the course of the year 1928-29, this small group of 25 families, who had been meeting for late Friday night services at Temple Ahavath Torah, was organized into Temple Emanu-El of Englewood. Ferdinand Vorsanger, first President of the congregation, opened up his home on East Palisade Terrace for regular services under part-time direction of Rabbi Benjamin Schultz and the Temple began to come to life and thrive. By the end of 1929, services were moved to the Plaza Theater in order to accommodate the growth of the group. The Sisterhood was founded by Mrs. William Jacobus in order to begin community activities and raise money for a proposed building fund. Under their guidance, the send-off event, our first Dinner Dance entitled “First Masque and Civil Ball”, took place on March 10, 1929.
Again, the congregation moved to larger facilities at the Busch Building on West Palisade Avenue, where the de Scherer, Jacobus, Vorsanger, Schechter and Bernstein families presented and dedicated the first Torah scrolls, mantle and ark. The neighboring First Presbyterian Church gifted the pulpit. Here, in 1930, our first full time religious leader, Rabbi Zvi Anderman, took his place and the Hebrew School began with 25 students, at no charge to members. The First Communal Seder of the congregation was introduced through the initial publication of the Temple Emanu-El News in that year, while celebratory and ritual activities continued.
The Men’s Club introduced itself in 1934, when on May 2nd, it produced a stage show called “Nertz to You”, written, directed and performed by its members as a fundraiser. This sent the congregation in active pursuit of a permanent home for the Temple. In June 1935, a site was purchased at 173 Tenafly Road and the congregation began to hold services there while ground was broken for a new wing. Adjacent property at 153 Tenafly Road was donated by Henry Mandle for further expansion.
The year 1952 saw the purchase of our previous home at 147 Tenafly Road. A milestone in our Temple’s history occurred when in 1956, Temple Emanu-El became a member of the United Synagogue of America. Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg was appointed our spiritual leader and groundbreaking ceremonies were held for a new Temple to be designed by the architectural firm of Kelly & Gruzen. In 1962, we were blessed with the arrival of Cantor Kurt Silbermann who became not only our Hazzan, but also a dear friend to the entire congregation.
The official dedication of the Temple and the Religious School took place in 1965. The congregation continued to grow and although it weathered many obstacles, and some would say was fraught with change, it flourished as a hub of Conservative Judaism. In the early 1970’s, under the leadership of many dedicated members, Rabbi Hertzberg, and Cantor Silbermann, Temple Emanu-El moved into a new era of modern Judaic practice. In 1978, upon the recommendation of Rabbi Hertzberg, a Bat Mitzvah was celebrated on Saturday morning. Thus, Temple Emanu-El took the first steps toward egalitarianism in ritual practice.
A young, vibrant membership grew and Temple Emanu-El saw a new, active and engaged generation of congregants and leadership emerge. Rabbi Hertzberg served as President of the American Jewish Congress for six years as well as Vice President of the World Jewish Congress. He was instrumental in creating a vision of Jewish idealism and social action throughout the Jewish community here and abroad. Cantor Silbermann, always a leader among his peers, was installed as President of the Cantors Assembly. By the 1970’s and 1980’s Temple Emanu-El was seen as a major force among Conservative congregations. In 1985 Rabbi Hertzberg became Rabbi Emeritus, and for the next ten years Rabbi Stephen Listfield served as spiritual leader. Mrs. Miriam Weidenfeld joined us as Director of the Religious School, where for 10 years she oversaw the growth and development of one of the finest religious school programs in Bergen County. During this same period, the leadership and the congregation began the process of developing a long-term plan for the future requirements of Temple Emanu-El in the face of both changing demographics and the all too real need to move into a facility that would accommodate the new and increasing programs and needs of the congregation.
In 1989, Cantor Israel Singer became our Hazzan. For the past 32 years, he has been a most beloved leader in our congregation and his wife Bruria and their children have become our dear friends. Cantor Singer shares his joy of music through Cantorial Concerts, Music Festivals and the Temple’s Youth Chorale. Cantor Singer trains our B’nai mitzvah with patience and love. Whether through prayer, a concert or as an inspiring teacher, Cantor Singer enriches our spirit by sharing with us the magnificence of our musical heritage.
Rabbi Dr. Geoffrey Haber was the spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El from 1996-2007. He led the Congregation during its move from our home in Englewood, NJ to our current home in Closter, NJ. Rabbi Haber worked closely with our Sisterhood and helped launch our Men’s Club. He created diverse Adult Education programs that won the 1995-1997 Solomon Schechter Awards. His articles and sermons are published locally and nationally and he participated actively in the Bergen County Jewish community.
In July 2007 David-Seth Kirshner became the Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El. Rabbi Kirshner’s first priority is to meet as many congregants as possible to listen, individually and communally, to their histories, better understand their passions and simply learn more about them, while discovering together how the synagogue can play an even greater, more meaningful role in their lives.
TEMPLE EMANU-EL was founded in the 1920s by a group of young Jewish families who began meeting for Friday night services. In 1935, the synagogue purchased its first permanent home in Englewood, NJ. In 2001, the synagogue moved to its current home in Closter. Current membership totals more than 750 families.