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An Interstate Move That Works Well

December 21, 2006 By:
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The newly purchased building in Newtown, once a church
A New Jersey synagogue has abandoned its plans to build a new home in the Bucks County town of Langhorne, and instead has bought an existing church in nearby Newtown, eschewing a potential, and perhaps lengthy, legal battle in favor of a far less complicated relocation.

Congregation Brothers of Israel, a 123-year-old Conservative Congregation in Trenton, N.J., won a zoning dispute earlier this year, and was poised to build a new building on a 9-acre parcel of land in Middletown Township.

But despite the victory, some obstacles remained. A group of neighbors opposed to the project appealed the decision, creating the possibility of a showdown in court. And after months of consultations, the federal Department of Environmental Protection still had not granted the approval to build a new driveway on the property, part of which is classified as protected wetlands, according to several congregants involved in the process.

Then, in August, a congregant happened to notice a "for sale" sign in front of the Newtown Assembly of God Church, situated not far off of Interstate 95, and about 5 miles north of the Langhorne site. Almost immediately, the congregation backed out of the other problematic deal.

Brothers closed on the Newtown property on Nov. 16; it expects to be fully moved in and holding regular services by the end of January.

"This property became very advantageous for us," explained Scott Galinsky, a synagogue past president. "There were no issues with township zoning, and we could begin to operate our synagogue once we're able to move here.

"We were not interested in a multiyear battle," he continued. "Our goal was to sell the property in Trenton, move our congregation to a new building or existing building in Pennsylvania, where the majority of our members reside."

Less Space, but Less Expense

The synagogue purchased the 8,000-square-foot-building, which is 25 years old and sits on three acres, for $1.3 million.

It's considerably smaller than the synagogue's current home in Trenton, and also will be less spacious than the structure they had planned to build in Langhorne.

But synagogue officials said that they were anxious to move, as more than two-thirds of the congregation's roughly 200 families -- and perhaps an even higher percentage of families with children enrolled in the Hebrew school -- live in Pennsylvania. While leaders acknowledged that at times, it might be a squeeze, there should be enough room for necessary activities.

Starting next month, the religious school will meet on Sundays at the Newtown building. Weekday classes will continue to take place at a nearby middle school until June.

The church building -- which needed to have a steeple and a large cross removed -- lies about 6 miles east of another Conservative shul, Ohev Shalom of Bucks County in Richboro.

Nevertheless, Andrea Kornblum, also a past president of Brothers of Israel, said that the synagogue's move will help fill a void in the Newtown area.

She added that she felt the difficulties with the Langhorne property turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Had they continued with the construction, it would have cost the synagogue millions of dollars and taken at least several years to build.

Now, the congregation has a home in Pennsylvania that will be ready in a month.

"It was really obvious that this was meant to be. It was bashert," she said.

For Rabbi Howard Hersh, who has served as the congregation's religious leader for a whopping 46 years, the move means just another chapter in the synagogue's long and healthy history.

"The physical home of the synagogue may be moving to Pennsylvania, but the spirit of our founders is with us," he said. "In the final analysis, we're not only interested in buildings, we are interested in building community."

 

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