As Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approach, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro and his wife Shaindel are busy preparing for the Jewish New Year.
In the past decade, Chabad-Lubavitch, the Crown Heights, Brooklyn-based Hasidic movement that got its start in the forests of 18th-century Poland, has grown exponentially both domestically and internationally and has now settled down in Hoboken.
The Shapiros, members of the rapidly expanding movement, have established an emissary here in Hoboken to educate and attract Hoboken Jews, even those who currently aren't practicing.
"A Jew, is a Jew, is a Jew," said Rabbi Shapiro from his Jefferson Street apartment Wednesday.
One of the cornerstones of the Chabad movement is that it invites all Jews to worship, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative and non-practicing Jews are all welcomed. They are encouraged to be very flexible, lenient with other Jews while maintaining there own strict observance of Jewish law, said Rabbi Shapiro.
While many Hasidic movements in the past have been introspective and pretty much kept to themselves, Shapiro says, that the Chabad movement is different because they are proactive and look to become part of the community.
According to the numbers supplied from Chabad, more that 400 shlichim, or married emissary couples, have taken their postings in the past five years. These couples are different than many missionaries in other religions because instead of leaving Brooklyn for a year or two, they are charged to take up their postings for the rest of their lives.
According to church officials, they are given some salary initially but are quickly expected to start fending for themselves financially. They can charge for their activities, such as day schools and private tutoring, or by finding donors or taking jobs in the community.
According to Shapiro, members of the Chabad are taught not to sit back and wait for people to show up at the synagogue. They are literally all over the country effectively attracting nonobservant, well-educated Jews.
They have their own website, www.chabadHoboken.com. They advertise in local newspapers and put out fliers. Even Mayor David Roberts participated in the city's first ever-public menorah lighting last year, an event that was organized by Shapiro. The Chabad also provides free kosher Sabbath (or Shabbat, as it is called in Hebrew) and holiday meals.
Hoboken resident Dan Ruben said Thursday evening that the inclusive attitude of the Chabad is refreshing. "The thing I like about the Chabad is that you always feel welcomed," said Ruben. "When you arrive they treat you like a special guest, even though you may not dress like them or act like them."
One year in Hoboken
Unbeknownst to the Shapiros, they came to Hoboken at a time when their prayers had extra meaning. They hold their services in the community room of 5 Marine View Plaza. They first moved into that space on September 10 of last year.
The Rabbi said that even though they had not lived it in Hoboken much before 9/11, it was obvious that people's perspective on religion had changed instantly after the tragedy.
"We heard what people were telling us," said Shapiro. "They told us that there is more to life than just work and family. Now people are seeking something deeper in life. They want to get back to their roots and back to basics."
Shapiro also commented on his initial impressions about Hoboken. "The first thing that I noticed is that [Hoboken] is quite transitional," he said about the number of people who come to Hoboken and move out before they start having children and a family. He said that if there were more options for Jewish education, more Jewish families might be persuaded to stay in Hoboken longer instead of fleeing for the suburbs.
The high holidays
The Jewish High Holy Days are observed during the 10-day period between the first day (Rosh Hashanah) and the 10th day (Yom Kippur) of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated the first and second days of Tishri. It is a time of family gatherings and special meals.
According to Jewish tradition, it is on that day that Adam and Eve were created and is the day of judgement and reckoning. This year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sunset on Sept 6. Every Rosh Hashanah, those of Jewish faith renew their acceptance of the kingship of God.
"In short," said Shapiro, "you can't have a king without a body of people to make king. [Rosh Hashanah] is when we make God king once again this year."
At 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 8, the Hoboken Chabad will conduct the traditional blowing of the shofar, a well known symbol of Rosh Hashanah, an ancient Jewish instrument that is usually made from a ram's horn.
The blowing of the shofar is the only specific commandment for Rosh Hashanah. Shofar is used by Jews to proclaim the coronation of God as king.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the most solemn day of the Jewish year and is observed on the 10th day of Tishri. It is a day of fasting, reflection and prayers. This year it begins at sunset on Sept. 15.
The Hoboken Chabad meets in the community room at 5 Marine View Plaza, on Hudson Street. For more information call (201) 386-5222 or go to www.chabadHoboken.com.