Interfaith Hospitality: Montclair church offers neighborly love
By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
The congregation at Shomrei Emunah is attending church on Shabbat mornings, member Josie Zeman says. The worshipers at the Jewish synagogue at 67 Park St. have made Central Presbyterian Church, also on Park Street, their temporary home for the past five weeks.
A week of sub-20-degree temperatures in early January caused a pipe to burst in the rear of the synagogue in the first-floor service room on Jan. 8, Rabbi David Greenstein said. The flood caused extensive damage to Greenstein’s office, the Youth Activity Center, library and the floors. The floor tiles were discovered to contain non-friable asbestos, which is contained and less likely to be released into the air. Two days after the flood, Greenstein informed the Montclair Clergy Alliance of the situation, and the Rev. David Noble of Central Presbyterian offered the use of his building, which lies diagonally across the street from Shomrei.
“Noble came over to our building and said, ‘Do you need help’ and ‘What can we do to help out?’” Greenstein said. “He made it a point to come over. We are very grateful to the ongoing help given to us by Central Presbyterian Church. We have benefited from wonderful generosity from a few of our neighbors.”
Noble said: “They sent out a request for help and were concerned about their preschool and services, meetings and classes during week and weekend. We looked it over and thought about it and well it’s our neighbor and at this point they are homeless and we have to do something. We have lots of space in our building, well why shouldn’t we offer it and see if its usable for them? We felt like it’s a good thing to do and helping us to know our neighbors.”
There has been no decline in attendance since the flood. About 30 people worship on a typical Saturday, Greenstein said.
In addition to Shabbat meetings, Shomrei Emunah is holding its Hebrew School on Saturdays and Wednesdays at the church. The congregation has also received short-term and occasional help from Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove. The children were sent to Temple Sholom for the preschool program until Bnai Keshet offered its space.
Union Baptist Church is also lending a hand, allowing its space to be used for the Tuesday night MESH program.
“We still provide the volunteers and are cooking and serving, making sure individuals are being served a good healthy hot meal,” Greenstein said. “Other congregations in Montclair have reached out with offers to help us as well.”
Noble’s church was also in a similar situation prior to Shomrei Emunah’s.
“We had a flood two weeks before, on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “Luckily, ours we could fix. It was in the basement. Theirs damaged the property, they are worse off than we were.”
At Shomrei Emunah, the flood did not cause much damage to material items.
Greenstein said: “Of course, the floors and walls are badly damaged. But our Torah scrolls were untouched and the great majority of our sacred texts are safe. We lost some of them, though. Because they contain the Hebrew Name of God we will take care to bury those books and documents. They cannot be disposed of in a disrespectful way.
“We cut back on certain things, we use my home for certain classes and prayer services as well. We are scrambling and doing the best we can given the circumstance and embracing the generosity of the hosts. That’s not a small thing, they have their own activities and their own community. It is really great they are making us a home as well.
“A tremendous amount of concern and offers went out. Montclair Clergy Alliance is a wonderful coalition of caring clergy of all faiths. I cannot say enough about the goodness we are showered with from our neighbors. A good lesson for ourselves and our children. When we are in the position to help we should remember this and jump at it.”
In light of the flood, Greenstein plans to hold the Purim Festival at the congregation.
“There are holiday preparations for Purim at the last day of February,” he said. “We are having rehearsals at Temple Sholom.”
History of helping
Shomrei Emunah is not the only house of worship that has made a home at Central Presbyterian; Bnai Keshet called the church a home from 1994 to 2000 and First Baptist Church of Montclair as well from 1995 to 2001 Also, the Salvation Army took up residence from 2005 to 2009.
“One thing I learned about this congregation, this congregation has made space for a number of congregations,” he said. “... There are plaques around the church, it’s a part of history, not something we try to do but just happens to us. Fairly often we’ve been in this position to bring in a congregation.” Because of space constrictions, Bnai Keshet still holds its High Holy Days worship at the church.
Greenstein said: “We are part of a long line of people. This has been perfect for us. Beautiful open windows.”
Noble said Mikes Byrnes, building manager, and Shirley LaFalce, church administrator, helped make it a smooth process for Shomrei, by making sure the doors are open and keeping a schedule set to avoid conflict.
Interfaith Hospitality Network
Both congregations are also part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, an Essex County organization that finds temporary housing for homeless families. “That sets the table for why we want to help them for when they have no place to live,” Noble said. “It’s no surprise that both of us thought that both of us could live in the same place for a while; both of us host IHN, Shomrei knows how to do that and so do we. We’re just doing for each other in this case.”
Greenstein said, “I am very grateful to our office and custodial staff, and our congregational volunteers, to the town of Montclair and to our very professional contractors who have minimized our losses and handled our situation so well.”