A Wonderful Solution to a Wonderful Problem: Eatontown Synagogue Begins Expansion in Response to its Meteoric Growth

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Victor Cohen 

 

On Sunday, February 18th, Congregation Shaare Tefilah Bene Moshe, also known as the Synagogue of Eatontown, held an official groundbreaking ceremony to commence their expansion project. The Eatontown community came together to celebrate their growth and success, and to excitedly look ahead to the continued blossoming of their congregation in the newly-expanded facility. 

 

Bringing Everyone Back Indoors 

 

In advance of the event, I had the privilege of speaking with the congregation’s rabbi and spiritual leader, Rabbi Moshe Douek, to learn about the community and the expansion project. Rabbi Douek began by emphasizing the urgent need to expand the building due to the influx of people moving to Deal, and, in particular, to the Eatontown area. When the rabbi first moved there in 2007, he explained, there were only 70 families in the area, and one daily minyan. With such a small community, he recalled, there was no mikveh and no programming. And, Rabbi Douek was the only rabbi in that area. Now, however, there are over 300 families, and the community is blessed with a mikveh and Torah learning programs both during the day and at night. Additionally, there are ten rabbis serving the community.  

 

“What has been created here in just 17 years is an exponentially larger and more robust congregation, one that now needs a larger space to accommodate its growing numbers,” Rabbi Douek said. 

 

The synagogue currently hosts five separate minyanim on Shabbat, necessitating some creativity in finding space for everyone. The minyanim all fill their rooms to capacity, and a permanent tent was erected in the backyard to accommodate the overflow. The expansion project will allow the congregation to come back indoors, as the size of the building will be doubled. New classrooms will be added, as well as a large social hall and a midrash 

 

Already seven years ago, the synagogue recognized the need for expansion, and began laying the groundwork, in the literal sense of the word – carefully inspecting the property to ensure that no piping would interfere with their designs, and clearing out forest area. The synagogue’s officers also worked with the township to obtain the necessary permits. After seven years of hard work and surmounting tall hurdles, they were finally ready to begin construction.   

 

“A Historic Day” 

 

Walking into the event, one could palpably sense the excitement and fervor. It instantly became evident just how attached the people feel to their synagogue, that this house of prayer and study constitutes an integral part of their lives. Many members chose to bring their entire families, showing the strong bond between the home and the shul. The feeling of community, of warmth, of shared ideals and a common goal was experienced by everyone in attendance. 

 

Concurrently with the main groundbreaking ceremony, an exciting program for the children was held in the building’s main social hall, featuring carnival games with prizes and bingo. Children’s programming has always been a major point of focus in the Eatontown community, and the hard work invested into the kids’ activities that morning is a clear testament to the priority given to the community’s youth. 

 

When the time came for the main program to begin, the people took their seats, bringing some of the delicious catered breakfast and coffee with them. Rabbi Douek stepped onto the stage and proudly and excitedly pronounced, “Today is a historic day… Heaven and Earth rejoice as we come to build a bet Knesset in honor of Hashem.” 

 

The rabbi then introduced the first speaker – Albert Antebi, who devotedly served as the congregation’s president for five years, and is the Chairman of the Building Committee. Albert opened his speech by thanking the mayor and local council on behalf of the congregation, expressing the community’s deep appreciation for the hard work they invested to move this project forward. He also spoke of the debt of gratitude owed by the congregants to the shul’s original founders, saying, “We wouldn’t be here today if they didn’t have the vision 20 years ago to make it into what it is today.” 

 

Albert then proceeded to present the anticipated timeline, explaining that the project is expected to take around a year-and-a-half to complete – an exceptionally short period for a project of this scale and complexity. The work is expected to proceed quickly, Albert said, because the building committee understands the urgency of the matter, as the congregation has outgrown the current facility. Simply put, the synagogue needs to provide more space as soon as possible.  

 

A Beloved Role Model 

 

Albert then spoke about Rabbi Douek, the profound impact he has on the synagogue’s members, and the credit he deserves for its exponential growth. He described the rabbi as the synagogue’s “driving force” – a description that could be confirmed simply by observing Rabbi Douek’s interactions with people at the ceremony, seeing his genuine love and concern for every member, and their great respect and admiration for him. 

 

Later, I had the opportunity to speak with Albert and to ask him to elaborate on the rabbi’s impact. He said that Rabbi Douek is involved with every aspect of the synagogue, investing an enormous amount of time and energy into every detail, often behind the scenes, working without anyone noticing. Albert further described Rabbi Douek as exceptionally warm, friendly, and kind, setting an inspiring example for the entire congregation to strive to emulate. He truly loves the shul with all his heart and soul, and the people love him the same way. 

 

Near the end of Albert’s speech, he emphasized the need for financial support for this new endeavor, noting that this ambitious project requires the participation of the entire congregation. This plea echoed the appeal found in the official brochure, which stated: 

 

Hazal tell us that, not only is it a mitzvah to participate in the building of a shul, but it is an obligation. If one were to move into a new town with no existing place of praying, it should be his mission to build one. If there is no Beit Midrash – Learning Center, it must be built as well. If they are full, he should build bigger. 

 

Albert closed by expressing his heartfelt wish that after the building is completed, the current sanctuary and building would be renovated, as well. 

 

Albert’s speech was followed by a special address by State Senator Vin Gopal, who expressed his delight at the drastic growth of the Eatontown Synagogue. He informed the crowd that he would be putting an official record of this groundbreaking ceremony in the NJ Senate.  

 

I later approached the Senator and asked him to share his thoughts about the event with the readers of Community Magazine 

 

“I was honored this morning to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the expansion of the Synagogue of Congregation Shaare Tefilah,” he said. “It is amazing to be a part of this new beginning.” 

 

“Flying” Pledges 

 

The next speaker was the assistant rabbi of the synagogue, Rabbi Norman Cohen, who spoke beautifully of his personal connection to Eatontown, where he originally served as ba’al koreh (Torah reader). Then, he asked for pledges, and the numbers started flying in. Rabbi Cohen stayed on stage, making jokes or doing his legendary impression between the pledges. He mentioned that he had a flight to Israel which he needed to catch in a few minutes – but the only “flying” that was happening would be at this event… The show went on for a full hour, and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was a remarkable, heartwarming display of a community’s dedication to its synagogue, and a testament to the close bonds between the congregants and their rabbis. 

 

Afterward, Rabbi Douek invited the crowd to join him outside for the actual “groundbreaking.” We all walked outdoors to the area that had begun resembling a construction site, and gathered around a shovel. Rabbi Douek explained that the same spades which were used just under two decades ago to open this synagogue, would now be initiating the process of expansion. He then thanked the Eatontown’s Mayor, Anthony Talerico Jr., for all of the support he has given, saying, “Without the mayor, we wouldn’t be here today.”  

 

Finally, Rabbi Cohen led the crowd in the singing of Nishmat, after which everyone was given the opportunity to pour cement. Rabbi Douek said that all those present had the great privilege of fulfilling the mitzvah that was read in the Torah the day before, the mitzvah of “Ve’asu li Mikdash” – building a sanctuary for Gd, by coming together to build Congregation Shaare Tefilah’s future. 

 

The crowd dispersed, feeling uplifted, grateful for their community’s growth, and looking excitedly ahead to their congregation’s new beginning. 

 

For further information about the Eatontown community or the expansion of the shul, please feel free to contact Rabbi Moshe Douek at 732 397 2566.