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Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
432 Scotland Road
South Orange, NJ 07079

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Release Date: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Media Contact: Caryl Bixon-Gordon (201) 796-7788

Reform Synagogue in South Orange Offers Early Shabbat Services, Relaxed Atmosphere and “Awesome Onegs” as Part of Worship and Communal Life

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., Jan. 21, 2014 – Every other Friday evening at 6 p.m., members of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) in South Orange gather for an early worship service that invites them to “come as they are.” These early erev Shabbat (Sabbath eve) services, which offer lively music, an occasional scholarly speaker and community dinners, are ideal for those who want to worship and engage with other members-and still enjoy a relaxing night at home.

Rabbi Ellie Miller explains that the early service, typically held on the second and fourth Fridays of the month, grew out of the process of worship exploration under Synagogue 2000, a national program that worked with North American synagogues to explore areas of engagement and growth within their communities. The TSTI community was looking for something different-a worship service that was easy to get to after work and left time for a leisurely evening afterwards. The synagogue holds a more formal service with Torah readings at 7:30 p.m. on the other Friday nights.

“The worship experience is more casual and relaxed,” said Miller. Family-friendly by virtue of its start time, the service includes plenty of singing and interaction. A guest speaker is often invited to speak briefly during the service and continue over refreshments during the oneg Shabbat. “The service is about an hour long and ends early enough for members to have Shabbat dinner together or stay for a planned community-wide dinner at the temple. It’s a lovely and intimate way to start Shabbat.”

The challenge to adding the 6 p.m. service to its weekly schedule was how to accommodate those who preferred the early time without inconveniencing worshippers accustomed to the 7:30 service. Synagogue leaders found that having two services in one evening divided, rather than unified, the congregation. “The idea behind the Synagogue 2000 initiative was to build community, not disrupt it,” said Rabbi Daniel Cohen. “We decided to alternate service times each week and piloted the program during the summer. It was such a big success it became permanent.”

Community-Building for Students, Families

Friday night community-building initiatives are not reserved for adults only. Students of all ages get into the act with grade-level Shabbat services and dinners, and TSTI’s innovative “Awesome Oneg” program, which was also created in response to member feedback.

Through a grant that funded synagogue innovation, TSTI’s leaders surveyed temple members about how to enhance children’s participation in services and synagogue life. The youth group director and its members were then commissioned to devise a new program for parents and children. The result is the highly successful Awesome Onegs, now in its second year. The program is for students in grades 3, 4, and 5; each grade enjoys its own Awesome Oneg once during the school year, for a total of three annually.

On their Awesome Oneg nights, the students participate in the 7:30 p.m. Friday night service, including reading and singing accompanied by an all-volunteer band. After the service, parents socialize in one room while children enjoy their own oneg Shabbat with special treats and programming run by the high school students. The curriculum, specific to each grade level, covers a different topic related to Judaism. There is a social action project for younger and older siblings available at the same time.

The program has fostered a higher level of engagement and a stronger sense of community across age levels. “The Youth Group has a wonderful energy and deep sense of commitment,” said Miller. “They have really hit the nail on the head in terms of what families are looking for.”

Of the revamped Friday night schedule, Rabbi Cohen added, “There is always something going on at TSTI on a Friday night. Whether it’s an intimate service, scholarly discussion, community dinner or Awesome Oneg, there is truly something for everyone.”

To learn more about Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel go to www.tsti.org.


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