The Jewish Community Center of Farmingdale, Inc (aka Congregation Ahavat Olam)
Congregation Ahavat Olam (CAO) was created in 2008 from the merger of two conservative congregations that had a long-storied past. These two congregations were Congregation Ahavat Achim (CAA), which was founded in Howell, NJ in 1930, and Congregation Ahavat Shalom (CAS), which was founded in Lakewood, NJ in 1957. As with most conservative congregations in the early 2000’s, CAA and CAS were struggling financially. This struggle eventually led to a meeting in 2007 between Arlene Schwartz (CAS President) and Lawrence Gurman (CAA President). After many ensuing meetings, it became clear that a merger of equals would solve both of our financial issues and would help save Conservative Judaism in Ocean and Monmouth counties. This became the birth of a new congregation, Congregation Ahavat Olam (“Eternal Love”).
When the merger was finally completed, funds from the sale of the CAS building were used to plan and build a new building that made use of the existing CAA property and building. This project was completed and dedicated on November 10, 2010.
Today, we are a thriving midsize egalitarian congregation bringing over 130 years of service to the Jewish Communities in Howell, Lakewood, and surrounding communities in NJ. We are an ardent supporter of the State of Israel and provide an enriching environment that strives to make Conservative Judaism meaningful in today’s complex world for people of all ages. Our members participate in religious, educational, and social programs that serve to unify a keen sense of community and commitment to Judaism. With a membership that runs between 150 and 200 families, we provide diverse services throughout the year to our members as well as the surrounding communities of Monmouth and Ocean County. On a weekly basis, roughly 1000 people walk through the doors of CAO to participate in the following services: Hebrew School education, adult education, nursery school, religious services, committee meetings, social activities, fundraisers, family celebrations, and community service events for the entire region at large. The Rabbi provides extensive services to the surrounding community as well as to CAO (for example, he serves as chaplain to the Howell Police Department.)
Congregation Ahavat Achim
“Peskin Lane” or “Peskin Drive” on which the Jewish Community Center of Farmingdale was originally located is named after Benjamin “Ben” Peskin who was the first 20th Century Jewish settler in the Howell NJ area. “Bobby” Sustick tells of an ancestor of his wife who lived on the old Hamburger place on West Farms Road back in the 1890’s, but there was a span of twenty to thirty years before that when Ben came out and, along with the Jewish Agricultural Society, decided that the Farmingdale area (now a part of Howell) was a logical extension of the Toms River area which, they had started in 1906. It took another five years (1925-6) before the next small group (the Cheskins, the Cohnes, the Friedlands the Hamburgers, and the Sokols) would follow Ben to Farmingdale. These slow beginnings in the 1920’s were marked by a rapid increase in the Jewish population during the early 1940’s when they topped a hundred Jewish farmer families whose economic impact came from revenues generated from poultry feed, supplies and egg distribution cooperatives. The Jewish farmers of the Farmingdale-Howell area either started their own organizations or joined other mid-Jersey groups. Eventually, the general decline in small family farming country-wide drove the majority from the farms and out of the area. The closeness and viability of the community was now being tested, however, as can be seen today it was of a more enduring nature.
Before the original building was built, social functions were held in the homes of the several Jewish farmers of the late 1920’s. The National Council of Jewish Women started classes in Jewish education which were held in various homes and were devoted primarily to reading and writing Yiddish and Jewish history. Being a close-knit community, the group also celebrated all the Jewish holidays in those same homes. It was common for the youngsters to walk three to eight miles to these affairs. The cooking and baking were also done in the homes. Obviously, it was not long before that original group realized that a Jewish Community Center was necessary to support the growing population; for social, educational, economic, and religious purposes. After many meetings, it was agreed to erect the Jewish Center on a piece of property donated by Benjamin Peskin.
The original Jewish Community Center was built mostly by hand by the few Jewish farmers living in the area. There is still a photograph of Mr. Max Freedland holding his wheelbarrow in front of the incomplete building available for viewing in the synagogue office. The original building on Peskins Lane served the Congregation for almost five decades, from 1928 to 1974 when it was sold to the State of New Jersey so that the State could begin to develop the Manasquan Reservoir. On July 20, 1975, the new building at 106 Windeler Road was dedicated, and the Name Congregation Ahavat Achim (Brotherly Love) was born. The dedication ceremony involved a motorcade led by a horse drawn carriage in which our Torahs were held. The Torahs were then carried under a chuppah and paraded to and around the new building seven times. The dedication ceremony was well attended by Jews, Jewish organizations, and elected officials from Farmingdale, Freehold, Howell, Jackson, and Lakewood, the towns we continue to serve.
The first year the CAA was open membership more than doubled and school enrollment increased by more than five hundred percent. What started as an original congregation of twelve families now included members from townships in both Monmouth and Ocean Counties. In 2008, CAA merged with another conservative synagogue in the area, Congregation Ahavat Shalom in Lakewood, NJ (see history below), and formed a new stronger congregation: Congregation Ahavat Olam. The details of Congregation Ahavat Olam can be found earlier in this article.
Congregation Ahavat Shalom
The birth of Congregation Ahavat Shalom (CAS) was due to small group of dedicated men and women meeting in the home of Harry and Martha Heyman in Lakewood, NJ on October 6, 1957. The first religious service of the new conservative congregation was held on Friday night, November 15, 1957, in the dining room of the Prospect Hotel (now the parking lot on 11th Street). Services were conducted each Friday night thereafter by members of the congregation including Ted Snider, Marvin Hammerman, Dr. Simon Mendelsberg and Stan Weiland, the first President of CAS. Eventually, the Commodore Hotel (11th St. and Madison Avenue) became the meeting place until September 1958 when the Kenmar Hotel (was 3rd St. and Monmouth Avenue) became the location for the remainder of the year. During this time the Hebrew School grew requiring larger quarters, a young Rabbi Raphael Miller assumed Rabbinical duties, Chazan Parzen filled the sanctuary with is beautiful voice, and the name Congregation Ahavat Shalom (meaning “Love of Peace”) was officially adopted. Now the problem was where our permanent home would be.
The first building fund Campaign Committee was formed and co-chaired by Dr. Simon Mendelsberg and Ted Snider. The efforts of this committee led to the February 13, 1958, purchase of a lot on Forest Avenue and 11th St. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on Nov. 9, 1958. A building fund was formed by Dr. Simon Mendelsberg and Sid Stambler and even though funds were in short supply, the outpouring of volunteers enabled the members to complete the shell of the building the day before Rosh Hashanah, 1959.
The first Sefer Torah was presented by Sol and Frances Cohen on October 18, 1959, and an additional seven others were donated by members in subsequent years.
A youth group was organized in 1958 and the following year the first Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were celebrated. In June 1963, the first Torah School commencement was held.
By now, the congregation was growing in leaps and bounds and the building was getting too small. A building fund was started by Al Sawyer which raised $150,000.00 for the creation of a new classroom wing, new sanctuary, and new Bet Midrash. This construction was done in two phases with the education wing being dedicated on September 12, 1965, and the sanctuaries being dedicated December 11,1966. For the next 41 years CAS thrived, but eventually it became harder and harder to make ends meet. In 2008, CAS merged with another conservative synagogue in the area, Congregation Ahavat Achim in Howell, NJ, and formed a new stronger congregation: Congregation Ahavat Olam. The details of Congregation Ahavat Olam can be found earlier in this article.