Orthodox Organizations Step Up, Federations Stand Down.
By Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein
Approximately 6 years ago a top leader in the New York City Jewish federation came to Hoboken to see the regions then only Moishe House first hand. When, at the end of the meeting, the federation leader was asked if they would fund the Hoboken Moishe House the answer was the standard “it’s not in our catchment area.” For years the Jewish community in Hoboken and Jersey City has been hearing this statement from local area federations. For years those involved in the Hudson County Jewish community have heard of “ongoing” and “continuing” conversations with both the Federation of Northern New Jersey and MetroWest. Would they divide the area? Would they work together? Which one would step up to the plate and annex Hoboken and Jersey City? There have been op-eds, studies, surveys, reports and negotiations. While the Federation world seems content to keep their toe hold in Hudson County to the theoretical and minimal inclusion of the county north of Hoboken in Northern NJ, a small Jewish Family Services in Jersey City run by MetroWest, and the Moishe House in Hoboken (supported by both area NJ federations among others), some in the non-federation world – the kiruv (Orthodox outreach) organizations have upped their investment.
Chabad, the undeclared king of the hill of non-federation connected and non-synagogue movement Jewish life, has had a presence in Hoboken since 2011. In September of 2014 the Hoboken Chabad opened a 1,800 square foot synagogue with local media coverage and the mayors of both Hoboken and Weehawken in attendance. Chabad, though located in Hoboken, sees itself serving not just the Jews of Hoboken but of all Hudson County.
More recently, a relatively new Orthodox outreach organization focused on young Jewish professionals, Mesorah NJ, held a Hanukkah event at the Barsky Gallery in Hoboken. The event had over 60 attendees – some from Hoboken, Jersey City and many from parts elsewhere in central and northern New Jersey. Mesorah NJ knew that by having an event in Hoboken they were not only attracting locals but also using the inherent Hoboken cache to bring in young Jewish adults from around the state. The organization is using Hoboken as one of the three target NJ municipalities (the other two being Highland Park and Morristown) and is planning another Hoboken event, a Shabbat dinner, for early March.
Mesorah NJ may have Hoboken as one of its focus cities, but like Chabad it’s not limiting itself to just the “Mile Square” city. While each target town has board members designated as municipal leaders, the only city with a leader not officially targeted is Jersey City. For a young organization this move shows a twofold nuance and knowledge that, aside from the United Synagogue of Hoboken (USH) and Chabad, many do not see – the composition of Hoboken is getting older and Jersey City is growing as a young professional destination for the post-collegiate pre-suburbs cohort. On December 31, 2014 the New York Times printed a piece about early families and empty nesters migrating from Manhattan and Brooklyn to Hoboken. Many in Hoboken can attest that more young families are coming to and staying in the Mile Square. At the same time the young adult scene in Jersey City, which includes an untapped and large number of young Jews, is growing as Hoboken rental prices have encouraged New Jersey’s young adults who love the area to choose Jersey City.
The kiruv organizations have been smart, savvy, and organized. They have adapted to the Jewish terrain like seasoned veteran organizations. The Jewish federations of New Jersey and New York should learn from their example and act creatively – they can either annex the area or create a cooperative framework for incorporating Hoboken and Jersey City. Chabad and Mesorah NJ, as well as the indigenous Jewish communal organizations such as the USH and Hudson Jewish, know Hudson County’s growing pool of untapped upwardly mobile potential donors and increasing and large community of young Jewish adults is worth the investment.
Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein is a rabid (but non-totalitarian) secularist Jewish young adult from Hoboken, NJ. He is a conservative Republican with Hispanic roots. He writes regularly online and every so often gets published on dead tree (print newspaper); he has been published in over a dozen venues.