The West Orange, New Jersey community is excited to welcome visitors and prospective residents to its annual Discover West Orange Shabbaton, to be held this year on the Shabbat of March 8-9, Parshat Pekudei. The shabbaton is a way for the township’s Jewish community to show potential newcomers what makes West Orange so special.
When families are considering a new community, there are many factors to consider. Affordability is always paramount, likely followed by proximity to work or ease of commute and quality of schools. West Orange fulfills both of these very important criteria.
West Orange offers housing at a variety of price points, giving the buyer more for his money in every price range. Deena Rubin, a real estate consultant at Keller Williams Realty Inc., commented, “The community...offers something for everyone, including affordable, spacious housing that is within walking distance to a shul.”
The township is located within 15 miles of New York City, giving commuters easy access via bus, train and PATH. For families needing access to Manhattan or elsewhere, the township provides jitney service to and from NJ Transit stations in nearby towns. Shabbaton co-chair Michael Diamond said, “It’s deceptively easy for people to commute to work with multiple transport options.”
The community is lucky to be fairly centrally located in terms of schools. There is a preschool, the Lauren Elise Bier Nursery School, housed at Congregation AABJ&D, and the local yeshivas also offer pre-kindergarten programs. These yeshivas, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, located in the adjacent town of Livingston, and The Jewish Educational Center, located in nearby Elizabeth, provide schooling for pre-k through grade 12. Not only are the schools easily accessible, they, in cooperation with the shuls and MetroWest JCC, offer newcomers to the community tremendous financial incentives. The New Family Incentive program offers families who move to West Orange, join one of its shuls and send their children to one of these yeshivas financial incentives amounting to over $50,000. For those who opt for public school but still desire a Jewish education, the community is currently in the planning stages of offering a Hebrew School-type program to meet those needs. This Kulanu program is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2019.
For observant families, once you get past these basic criteria, the next two community must-haves are typically eruv and mikvah. West Orange has these bases covered. The West Orange eruv has been in place since 1983, was expanded fairly recently and is checked weekly. The mikvah has been a strong and vibrant institution in the community for decades and is maintained at the highest halachic standards.
Beyond these important considerations, families often look to the amenities. The greater community boasts more than a dozen kosher eateries and shopping establishments, including ShopRite’s Kosher Village, restaurants, Judaica and specialty shops. Whether sit-down or take-out; Shabbat specials, sushi, pizza or Chinese; milchig, fleishig or pareve—all manner of culinary desires can be met in and around the township’s borders.
The biggest addition to the township was the opening of Aron’s West Orange in the fall of 2018. A full-service kosher supermarket, Aron’s also sells freshly made sushi, and prepared food courtesy of Beth Indyk of Herb and Spice. According to Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler, spiritual leader of AABJ&D, Aron’s has been a “game changer” for the township. “The…opening of Aron’s West…will take us to the next level as an attractive potential home for families seeking a full-service Orthodox community.”
West Orange also has an active recreation department, which accommodates Orthodox families by offering Sunday sports options. Diamond commented, “I was pleasantly surprised at how welcome the Orthodox community is within West Orange. One example of this is the amazing youth sports programs. My kids are always included as they have Sunday options for all the sports.”
Outside of its Jewish life, West Orange offers many attractions for adults, children and families. The South Mountain Recreation Complex includes the Richard J. Codey Skating Arena, Turtle Back Zoo, Safari Mini Golf and Treetop Adventure Course, in addition to a beautiful walking trail, boating and Pirate Park. The AMC Dine-In Theater at Essex Green 9, OSPAC outdoor amphitheater, township pool complex, equestrian center, hiking trails and, of course, Thomas Edison National Historic Park and Museum offer large-scale entertainment close to home.
The Discover West Orange Shabbaton showcases the unity within the town. AABJ&D and Congregation Ohr Torah typically host this special Shabbat, and Rabbi Zwickler believes that by joining forces, the shuls “send a message of unity” that is attractive to prospective community members.
Rabbi Marc Spivak, spiritual leader of Ohr Torah, agrees. “What I believe is truly special about West Orange is how well the shuls and people from all walks of life get along. What’s special is that we are close-knit as a community; we do a lot of programs that include all the community shuls.”
Rabbi Yosef Sharbat, the rabbi of the Sephardic minyan at AABJ&D, noted that it is not only Ashkenazic families who can feel welcome in West Orange.“On a typical Shabbat, we get about 50 men and 25 women, but for a simcha we get many more.” Regarding the township’s unity, he said, “We may not all daven together, but we all come together and are united as a community.”
“We have a number of families where one spouse is Ashkenazic and one is Sephardic, and they want to hold on to both traditions. We offer that inclusiveness,” he added.
Families looking for a warm and welcoming community for their children need look no further. Rabbi Zwickler firmly believes that “there is just something special about a West Orange kid.” He says that children who grow up in West Orange are just “different than other kids. They are conscious of their responsibility to the Jewish community and to mankind. There is a commitment to Torah and mitzvot and just a good overall feeling.”
Andrew Yolin, shabbaton co-chair for the past several years, commented, “Having done this for a while, it’s so good to see the momentum we have with young families moving in. We have welcomed over 30 new families in the last two years. It’s especially great that they are moving in from all over and blending together into one strong, growing community.”
Nicole and Sam Reinman, who joined the West Orange community in late August, relocating from nearby Hillside with their two school-age children, commented, “We were very attracted to the Redwood/Ohr Torah community from the start. We saw right away that every community member has a voice and an opportunity to be involved in the growth of our community in the way they choose. The proximity to all the local schools gives us options as our kids grow up. We love that our neighbors are as family oriented and prioritize their kids’ education and opportunities as much as we do. No one here lacks common ground to chat with anybody!”
Jennifer and Gabriel Minsky, who moved to West Orange from the Upper West Side with their 2-year-old son, recently welcomed a new baby to their family. The couple told The Jewish Link, “What attracted us to West Orange was that it is an established community, well located, and with easy access to our jobs. We’ve found it to be such a warm and welcoming community and this has made the transition so much smoother. We instantly felt at home here. It didn’t take long until the West Orange community became our extended family.”
Rabbi Zwickler stated, “In a world where so many of us are searching for identity and uniqueness, West Orange is a warm embracing place. We are a community where every individual and family, regardless of where they daven, is welcomed and cherished as a friend and neighbor. The opening of Aron’s has made our community even more complete. Together with West Orange Bake Shop, Reubens and Glatt Fusion, we are now a sought-out destination for the kosher consumer.”
All are welcome to attend the shabbaton, but registration is required. Please visit discoverwestorange.com to register.
By Jill Kirsch