Sephardic Shaarei Orah to break ground on new building

An artist’s rendering of Cong. Shaarei Orah’s new building at 1425 Essex Road in Teaneck. The Sephardic congregation will hold a groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday.

Cong. Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic congregation of Teaneck, expects to break ground for a building on Sunday and its members are looking forward to rising up from the basement in which they have met for years.

“This is all about the future,” said Jack Varon, chair of Shaarei Orah’s board of directors. “It’s the first Sephardic synagogue in Teaneck. The Sephardic liturgy is unique and quite rich. It’s important for the kids and future generations to have a place where they can experience these traditions. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Shaarei Orah began as a small group in 1994, meeting in different homes. It spent a year in Varon’s basement and then moved to the basement of another congregant on Jefferson Street, who has hosted the synagogue ever since. Synagogue leaders plan to move into their new building in time for Rosh HaShanah 2011. A groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday will mark the beginning of construction at 1425 Essex Road.

“The congregation has come of age,” said Shaarei Orah’s Rabbi Howard Jachter. “It’s no longer a minyan, it’s a congregation.”

The congregation, which has between 35 and 40 member-families, typically draws between 40 and 70 people for weekly Shabbat services, depending on the weather and time of year. Many people, Jachter noted, walk a half hour from Bergenfield or New Milford.

Shaarei Orah bought the property in 2001, but Varon said that changing the zoning from residential to that of a house of worship, as well as the economic downturn, delayed the construction.
Shaarei Orah’s new building has been a dream for years, said Rabbi Howard Jachter.

The three-story building will feature a social hall and warming kitchen in the basement, while the men’s section of the sanctuary will be on the ground floor. Setting the new synagogue apart from others in Teaneck, Shaarei Orah has planned a second-floor balcony for the women’s section.

The project is expected to cost just more than $2 million, according to Varon. To date, Shaarei Orah has reached out only internally for fund-raising, but will soon look to outside sources as well, he said.

Tragedy struck the congregation in March, when its president of six years, Ovadia Mussaffi, was killed along with another Teaneck resident, Lawrence Krausse, while walking back from shul during a violent storm.

“He was really the soul of the synagogue,” Jachter said of Mussaffi. “It’s an enormous tragedy, an enormous sadness. We’re still mourning. We’re still traumatized.”

Mussaffi had worked hard to get Shaarei Orah to the groundbreaking, said Jachter, who called the new building Mussaffi’s dream.

Shaarei Orah bills itself as a Sephardic synagogue and follows Sephardic traditions, but many Ashkenazic Jews attend as well, the rabbi said. Eventually, Jachter would like Shaarei Orah to become a hub for all Sephardic Jews in Bergen County.

“This has been a dream for 15 years,” he said. “We’re finally making it out of the basement.”


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