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Bergen County, New Jersey

BERGEN COUNTY, district located in the northern part of the state of New Jersey, U.S., bordering the Hudson River, and including 70 individual municipalities. Bergen County's population in 2000 was about 897,500, of whom approximately 100,000 were Jews. The first Jewish settlers in Bergen County arrived in Englewood in the 1880s and the 1890s. They came primarily from Lithuania and Russia and made their living as farmers and small businessmen. The first religious service in Bergen County was held on Rosh Hashanah, 1896, in Englewood and was conducted by Benjamin Sher, a native of Lithuania. This group became the first congregation, Congregation Ahavath Torah, in Bergen County. Early Jewish settlers in other towns eventually built their own synagogues, most them immediately after World War I, in Park Ridge, Hackensack, Ridgefield Park, and Westwood. The Hackensack Hebrew Institute, which later became Temple Beth El, was founded in 1913. A number of descendants of the early settlers still live in the county. The Jewish population of Bergen County grew slowly, with some spurts after World War I, until the completion of the George Washington Bridge in 1931, which opened the door for a huge migration from New York City. The first services for Jews in Teaneck, which has become a major hub of Jewish life in Bergen County, took place in the 1932. The High Holiday services were held in the studio of Israel Doskow, and they were led by Rabbi David Pearlman. This group began religious school classes in 1933, and 400 people attended High Holiday services that year at the Masonic Square clubhouse in Teaneck. The congregation dedicated the Teaneck Jewish Community Center in 1949. Temple Emeth, a Reform Congregation, began in 1947 when members of 50 families met in the Hackensack YMHA. This temple's current home was dedicated in 1959 and the sanctuary was completed in 1965. Congregation Beth Shalom, Teaneck's second Conservative synagogue, was formed in 1950 through the efforts of 28 families and Rabbi and Mrs. Barry Schaeffer. B'nai Yeshurun, Teaneck's first Orthodox congregation, was formed in 1958. Congregation Beth Am, Teaneck's second Reform temple, was formed in 1964 by 31 families. Congregation Beth Aaron was organized in 1971 by several women who felt the need for an Orthodox congregation in the Cedar Lane area of Teaneck.

The greatest increase in Jewish population took place after World War II with the housing boom. By 1950 there were approximately 20,000 Jews in the general population of 540,000. In the following two decades the Jewish population more than quintupled, whereas the general population has not quite doubled. In 2000 Teaneck, the largest municipality in Bergen County, had nearly 40,000 people and 15,000 Jews; Fair Lawn with a general population of 32,000 had an estimated Jewish population of 13,000; Englewood with 27,000 residents had 5,500 Jews. The Jewish community is affluent and well educated. According to the 2001 Jewish Community Study of Bergen County & North Hudson, Bergen is the 19th largest Jewish community in the United States. It has become an increasingly observant community. Nearly 30% of households keep a kosher home and 39% of Jewish children age 6–17 are enrolled in Jewish day schools – both being the highest percentages among any recently surveyed Jewish community in the United States. The strong connection between the Bergen County Jewish community and Israel is reflected by the 32% of households with Jewish children up to age 17 who have sent at least one Jewish child to Israel. This is by far, the highest percentage of any Jewish community in the United States.

Political Activity

Jews have been prominent in the political life of the county. Matthew Feldman, a native of neighboring Hudson County, who served as mayor of Teaneck, 1959–66, and as state senator, 1966–67, was chairman of the County Democratic Party in 1969. Nelson Gross of Upper Saddle River was appointed chairman of the County Republican Party in 1966 and chairman of the State Republican group in 1969. Nat Feldman was elected councilman in Englewood in 1969 and was mayor of Englewood (1970). Alvin Moskin, a descendant of one of the earliest settlers, served as mayor of Englewood, 1956–59. Martin Kole of Fair Lawn and Abraham Rosenberg of Bogota were appointed to judgeships on the county bench in 1966. Franklin H. Cooper was elected to the Bergen County Board of Free-holders on the Republican ticket (1969). Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Teaneck, was first elected to the New Jersey Assembly in 1992 and was elected in 2002 to be the Majority Conference Leader for the Democratic Party in the Assembly. State Senator Byron M. Baer (D) has served in the State Senate since 1994 and was elected Senate Leader Ex-Officio in 2004. Congressman Steven Rothman is a Democrat from Fair Lawn who was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. He is now in his fourth term of representing the Ninth District, which includes a portion of Bergen County. Congressman Rothman served as the two-term mayor of Englewood (1983–89) and as the Bergen County Surrogate Court judge (1993–96). Robert M. Gordon of Fair Lawn was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly in 2004. In the early 2000s, Bergen County had many Jewish mayors, including Michael Wildes of Englewood, Jacqueline Kates of Teaneck, Jack Alter of Fort Lee, David Ganz of Fair Lawn, Michael Kaplan of Norwood, Sandy Farber of Palisades Park, Peter Rustin of Tenafly, and Fred Pitofsky of Closter. United States Senator Frank *Lautenberg , who served in the Senate from 1982 to 2000 and was elected to a fourth term in 2002, was born in neighboring Paterson, New Jersey, and now resides in the Bergen County town of Cliffside Park. The growing political power of Jews in Bergen County, and the community's active participation in the area's social and cultural life, represents a radical change from the 1930s and the early 1940s. During this earlier period, the county was a hotbed of activity for pro-German Bundists. Country clubs that once discriminated against Jews are now fully integrated with all minority groups, and there is very little overt antisemitism in the county.

Organizational Life

Organizational life is very active, with over 185 known Jewish organizations. There are 23 Conservative synagogues, 15 Reform, 30 Orthodox, one Reconstructionist, and one unaffiliated. The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (Orthodox) and the North Jersey Board of Rabbis (Conservative and Reform) seek to enhance the life of the North Jersey Jewish community by furthering the interests of the professional rabbinate and the congregations in the area. The umbrella organization for the community is the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, which was formed on July 1, 2004, by the merger of the UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson and the Jewish Federation of North Jersey. The Federation is now the 18th largest UJA Federation out of the 186 major Federations in North America. It serves a Jewish population of 100,000 people living in 35,000 households in 90 communities in Bergen County, Passaic County, and parts of Hudson County. In 2005, the Federation aimed to raise $15 million to support 84 beneficiary agencies and community services funded by its Annual Campaign. In 2004, the Federation's Endowment Foundation went over $50 million in holdings. The Bergen County Federation was founded on September 19, 1977. It was one of the leading Federations in the United States in raising the most money for the Operation Exodus Campaign on a per capita basis. Over $15 million was donated to its Operation Exodus to help the Jews of the former Soviet Union make *aliyah to Israel in the early 1990s. Among the Federation's major beneficiary agencies in Bergen County are the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, the Bergen County Y, a Jewish Community Center in Washington Township, the Jewish Family Service of Bergen County in Teaneck, and the Jewish Home at Rock-leigh: Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Living. The Home opened its new state-of-the-art facility in 2001, after serving the Bergen County older adult community from its Jersey City site since the 1930s. The Bergen County YJCC, which began as the Hackensack YM-YWHA in the 1920s, opened its new building in 1987 to meet the recreational and cultural needs of the growing Jewish population in the Pascack Valley area of Bergen County. The JCC began in Englewood in 1950. The JCC's membership expanded so greatly that an expansion became necessary. In 1981, it opened it present-day facility – the JCC on the Palisades – in Tenafly, where it has become a major cultural and educational resource in Bergen County. The Jewish Family Service, which began in the 1950s, oversees counseling services, Kosher Meals on Wheels, a Job Search Network, New American services, and a Computer Training Center. The Jewish Association of Developmental Disabilities established New Jersey's first kosher group home (Nathan and Naomi Berrie Group Home) in 1988. As of 2004, J-ADD oversees nine kosher group homes for Jewish people with developmental disabilities. There are 13 Jewish day schools, two regional Jewish high schools, and four educational programs for Jewish children with special needs. These schools are served by the Jewish Educational Services of the UJA Federation, which provides teacher training, and centrally organized programs and services. Israel Programs Center of the UJA Federation provides educational programs about Israel to schools and organizations in the community. In 1998, the UJA Federation launched a Synagogue Leadership Initiative, in partnership with the Henry & Marilyn Taub Foundation, to help strengthen the 70 synagogues in Bergen County. The Jewish Community Relations Council, which was created in 1969, is the public policy, community relations, and advocacy arm of the UJA Federation.

[Max M. Kleinbaum / Alan J. Grossman (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.