By Cheryl Conway
September is a time for change like with the leaves turning colors getting ready to fall and kids starting their new school year.
With Judaism, it is the “season that is the engine that propels and guides the journey that is the coming year,” says Rabbi Yaacov Shusterman, director of the Chabad Jewish Center in Flanders. The High Holidays typically fall in September/October time frame with Rosh Hashana known as the Jewish New Year, Sept. 10-11 this year; followed by Yom Kippur: The Holiest Day of the Year, Sept. 18-19.
It is a busy time for the Shustermans, 42, and his wife Fraida, 41, with the services they provide at Flanders Crossing Recreation club house open to all wanting to observe the holiday in prayer and song, as well as the st
art of their Hebrew School program and building their Sukka or outdoor hut in their backyard in preparation of the week long holiday of Sukkot held eight days after Yom Kippur; this year Sept. 24-Sept. 30; that commemorates God’s protection of ancestors after their exodus from Egypt.
During the High Holiday services, no membership fees or tickets are required, nor affiliation necessary, but they do accept sponsors and donations. Traditional an
d inspirational services in a warm and friendly atmosphere are provided along with Hebrew and English
prayer books, sounding of the Shofar, singing from a cantor as well as a children’s program and service.
When asked about the number of active members, the Shustermans do not provide an official number as the rabbi says “All Jews are members!”
He says, “Active has so many different meanings beca
use we visit Jewish residents and businessmen in the area, and although they might not come to services, they are active members on our part. Our “membership” consists of Jews from Warren Cou
nty, Long Valley, and Chester. Many are from Mt. Olive.
“We have gotten to know many more people over the years!” says the rabbi. “It has definitely grown!”
The other closest chabad centers are the Chabad of Randolph, Chabad of Sparta and Chabad of Rockaway, says the rabbi.
Since 2004, the Shustermans have been living in Flanders and running the chabad. During the past 14 years they have been reaching out to more and more Jewish people encouraging them to embrace their Judaism.
“We had been in touch with our Regional Director, Rabbi Asher Herson from the Chabad in Rockaway, about opening up a center in the area,” explains Shusterman. “
He suggested we come here because there hadn’t yet been a Chabad
Center established in Western Morris County.”
Before coming to Flanders they lived in Brooklyn and both worked as teachers, says Fraida Shusterman.
The chabad has definitely made an impact over the years in the local area.
“Many Jews in Mt. Olive and surrounding areas have been impacted since we moved here,” says the rabbi. “Women and girls have started to light the Shabbat candles on Friday night, men are putting on Tefillin, we’ve checked and put up dozens of Mezuzahs on Jewish homes, many are attending Torah classes, more Jewish kids are coming to our Hebrew school and youth programs, and we have instilled Jewish pride in Jewish families. People are prouder than ever to be part of a Jewish holiday celebration. There is a stronger Jewish presence in the area.”
Through the chabad, the Shustermans
are on a mission to get Jewish peop
le connected and involved in their culture and religion.
“Being a Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Shneerson, we are charged with a mission: to educate and inspire our Jewish brethren in whichever capacity we can,” says Shusterman, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, who went to Jewish Day School, continued his studies in Israel and the U.S. before receiving his Rabbinic Ordination in 1998.
“We couldn’t be any happier and s
atisfied with this profession,” adds Fraida Shusterman, who grew up in Montreal, Canada, attended a private Jewish school there and graduated from Teacher’s College in Montreal.
“We provide everything a Jew might need throughout life,” says Shusterman. “Programs for young ones, Hebrew school, Bar and Bat Mitzva preparations, synagogue services, Torah classes, holiday programs, counseling, senior home visits, funeral services.
Since the chabad has no synagogue building, it utilizes the Flanders Crossing Recreation for its holiday services, Community Shabbat meal and other programs; and has used the Flanders Country Day School in Flanders and their own home for Hebrew School classes and smaller programs.
“We definitely have plans moving forward!” says Shusterman, about a permanent facility. “We’ve been looking for a permanent space for a while, and thank God plans are in the making. Stay tuned!”
The chabad does offer Hebrew Sch
ool classes on Sunday mornings.
“Our Hebrew School is a contemporary learning center that successfully caters to Jewish families from all walks of life,” says
Fraida Shusterman. “We welcome every Jewish child, regardless of Jewish background or observance. We do not r
equire any membership fees.
Our teachers live and breathe what they teach, and encourage questions. Our lessons are hands-on, interactive, and full of fun, and use up-to-date teaching methods. Our Aleph Champ Hebrew Reading curriculum is designed as a multi-sensory learning e
xperience and the students are self-motivated to succeed.”
The Shustermans, who have nine children of their own, keep in touch with their students even after the program.
“We keep connections with our students throughout their school years and into college,” says
Fraida Shusterman, who teaches the younger students. “We are happy to have had an impact even after college.”
Programs for adults are also provide
d as well as outreach to the community.
The rabbi does a monthly Tefillin club with bagels and lox, and offers a weekly Torah class. He also serves as a chaplain at t
he Morris Correctional facility, volunteers at the Chester Kessler Rehab, as well as Merry Heart in Succasunna. He does hospital and home visitations as well.
Fraida Shusterman is starting a phenom
enal monthly women’s course, titled “Larger Than Life- Weaving G-d into the Details,” by the Rosh Chodesh Society in November.
As far as community outreach, the chabad delivers Thanksgiving meals as well as provide Seder foods to those alone for the holiday, less fortunate or unable to prepare.
It also organizes with the township recreation department a community-wide Hannuka celebration and menora lighting in December at the Mt. Olive Twp. Municipal Building with a holiday gathering inside the Mt. Olive Senior Center.
“The township supports our activities,” says Shusterman. “They’re great to work with!”
While challenges are a part of life, Shusterman maintains a positive outlook.
“Our challenges are the challenges of Judaism today: How to ignite the Jewish flame, and how to keep that Jewish flame alive,” says Shusterman.
“There’s nothing more joyful and rewarding than being there for someone else and catering to their needs,” he says.
Background About Chabad Organization
According to the website, The Chabad Jewish Center is part of the largest network of Jewish social and educational organizations worldwide, known as Chabad Lubavitch. From his appointment in 1952, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, motivated by his profound love for every Jew, sent out large numbers of rabbinic emissaries, a husband and
wife duo, to settle in places across the world to set up a Chabad House for the purpose of teaching and inspiring their Jewish brethren.
The Chabad Jewish Center is dedicated to serving all Jews in Mt. Olive and its surrounding neighborhoods with an unconditional love and concern for every Jew, regardless of background or affiliation. It is founded on a principle that, while Jews embrace many levels of observance in their personal lives, there should be a place for all Jews to develop a sense of community and enhance the Jewish experience.
Its many programs cater to all ages, educate and provide Jewish knowledge, awareness, and practice leading to a deeper sense of pride and appreciation of the Jewish heritage ensuring the continuity of the Jewish people.
All are welcome to take a Torah cl
ass, try a mitzva or good deed, explore one’s roots and take one step further on the path of Judaism.
“Our vision is to have a fully functioning and self-sustaining Jewish Community Center in the area which services the Jewish needs of residents of Mt. Olive and nearby villages,” the Shustermans state on their website. “By 2020, we hope to be an established community of some 400+ families who would benefit from a rich arr
ay of programs.”