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Rockland County

ROCKLAND COUNTY, New York State county on the Hudson River, 30 miles north of midtown New York City. Rockland County is 174 square miles in area. It has 35,670 acres of parkland and 60 lakes and ponds. The 2003 population projection was 292,989. There are five towns in Rockland: Clarkstown, Haverstraw, Ramapo, Orangetown, and Stony Point. The Jewish population of Rockland was estimated at 92,000. At 31% of the total population, the Jewish community has a major and significant presence in business, cultural, political, religious, and communal life.

Early Jewish settlers came in the late 1890s as peddlers and small retail shopkeepers. Congregation Sons of Israel was established in Nyack in 1891 and was the first synagogue in the county. Congregation Sons of Jacob in Haverstraw was established around the same time. During the 1930s and 1940s the Jewish population expanded as families who spent their summers in Rockland decided to relocate permanently to the suburbs. These people came predominantly from the five boroughs of New York City and Yonkers. A plurality came from the Bronx and kept moving north.

In December 1955, the Tappan Zee Bridge opened. Within the next 20 years, the general population increased from 90,000 people in 1950 to 229,903 in 1970 and approached 290,000 by the end of the 1990s. The Jewish population increased as well. Young families, many of them professionals, moved from the five boroughs of New York City northward to the suburbs. They came in search of affordable housing with large yards for their children, safety and security, and excellent schools.

This growth included Jews of all affiliations. The most significant growth occurred within the Orthodox Community, which expanded from a few hundred families in the early 1960s to over 5,000 families by 2005.

The Community Synagogue, under the leadership of Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, firmly established the "Up the Hill" community of Monsey in the late 1950s. "Down the Hill Monsey" had also grown from its earlier roots in Spring Valley. Yeshiva of Spring Valley, Beth Jacobv of Spring Valley, Ashar, and Bais Shraga provided private educational opportunities for the growing Orthodox community. By 1983 there were more than 3,000 Orthodox families in Spring Valley, Monsey and its northern neighborhoods. Twenty years later the Orthodox community had nearly tripled its size – from 15,000 people to close to 45,000, some of it attributable to a high birth rate and the rest to the attractiveness of the community for Orthodox Jews. Many new neighborhoods have developed with synagogues in walking distance to large neighborhood population centers. As one example, the Forshay neighborhood grew from 25 families and a single Orthodox synagogue in 1983 to close to 1,000 families and more than a dozen Orthodox houses of worship by 2005. The number of schools rose as well, since virtually all the Orthodox population attend yeshivot or Jewish day schools. In addition to the Modern Orthodox, Agudah, and Chabad Orthodox communities, several ḥasidic villages have been established. These include New Square and Kaiser (Vizhnitz).

The rise in the Orthodox population has created several political changes and challenges including the issue of density/own zoning and affordable housing, and the delicate situation in the East Ramapo school district, in which only 9,200 of the close to 25,000 students attend public schools.

Beyond Monsey's large Orthodox community, there are 14 established Conservative, Reform, and unaffiliated congregations. These exist primarily to the east of Route 45.

The trajectory of the Conservative Jewish population in Rockland reflects that in the country as a whole. During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s the movement was large and thriving, sustaining at least eight congregations. Today, there are five. New City Jewish Center, with 900 families, is the largest Conservative congregation in the county. Established in 1958, Rabbi Henry Sosland served the congregation for 43 years, becoming emeritus in 2005. Rabbi Craig Scheff who grew up in Rockland County leads Orangetown Jewish Center.

Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School was chartered in 1971 as the Solomon Schechter School of Rockland County. The school was housed in the Jewish Community Center of Spring Valley, a Conservative congregation that subsequently closed. In 1985, it moved to its present location on New Hempstead Road, where it was renamed. The school serves students in preschool through the eighth grade.

Camp Ramah in Nyack, is one of three day camps in the United States affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative movement's primary educational institution. The day camp serves children entering kindergarten through eighth grades from Rockland and surrounding counties.

The largest of the Reform congregations include Temple Beth Shalom, Temple Beth El, and Beth Torah Congregation. These synagogues have rich cultural, religious, educational, and social action programs for their congregants and the community at large. Several operate preschool programs in addition to their religious school programs.

The geographic makeup of the Rockland Jewish community has given rise to a new term called "this side, that side, or both sides of 45." Ninety percent of the Orthodox community resides on the west side of Route 45 and at least two-thirds of the non-Orthodox community lives east of Route 45.

At the geographic and philosophical center of the community are the Jewish Federation of Rockland County and its constellation of agencies – the JCC-Y and the Jewish Family Service. Established in 1984 the relatively young Jewish Federation – serves to support the UJC and Israel and overseas agencies nationally and internationally. Additionally the Federation has helped to establish and continues to support local communal agencies and programs. Beyond the JCC-Y and the Jewish Family Service, the Federation has focused locally to create and fund the Center for Jewish Education of Rockland, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Jewish Reporter, a monthly newspaper, which is distributed to over 15,000 households.

In late 2006, the Rockland Jewish Community Campus is scheduled to relocate to a larger facility in West Nyack. The 15-acre, 135,000-square-foot facility will house the JCC-Y, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Federation and its agencies and programs, Hadassah, and Huvpac.

The Jewish population is heavily represented in most professions in the county.

More than one-third of the physicians and dentists in the county are Jewish as are the attorneys and accountants. About 25% of the Jewish work force works within the county while the remainder of the professionals generally work either in New York City or in Northern New Jersey.

The Rockland Jewish Community prides itself on the concept of unity and has established several initiatives that address this subject. In the late 1990s almost 10,000 people participated in a "We Are One" Event at the Rockland Community College. The community comes together annually for a Yom HaShoah observance under the umbrella of the Rockland Holocaust Museum and Study Center. Rockland County proudly participates in the annual (June) New York Salute to Israel Parade with a consortium of more than a dozen synagogues and organizations.

By 2010 it is estimated that the Jewish population will surpass 100,000 people and represent 33% or more of the community. Rockland, a rural area before 1955, has now become a major Jewish population center with a large and extremely diverse Jewish population.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.