As Congregation Ahavas Yisrael in Edison prepares to honor its Rabbi and Rebbetzin of 10 years on June 10, it’s remarkable to consider how the shul got to this point. Fifteen years ago none of this seemed likely to occur.
Observant Jews living on the outskirts of the bustling Jewish community of Highland Park/Edison, an area referred to as the Crossways, were meeting in an informal minyan in two different members’ basements, a tradition that started in the mid/late 1990s. The minyan had begun to expand and some members started thinking of establishing a home for the kehilla. Yet realizing this vision was by no means guaranteed.
At the same time, Rabbi Gedaliah Jaffe, his wife, Rivka, and their family had recently moved from Kew Garden Hills to Edison. Rabbi Jaffe looked forward to building his career as a chinuch rabbi in yeshivot. He found his way to the Crossways minyan and was very happy to sit in the pews, while offering an occasional shiur there and in local shuls. The Jaffes had not explored the career path of serving as rav and rebbetzin and had no plans to do so.
The minyan kept growing and in 2006 it started renting a restyled professional building on Route 27, taking the name Congregation Ahavas Yisrael (affectionately called “AY” by its members). After initially working with different local rabbis, who led the minyan as volunteers, shul leaders decided that more permanent rabbinic leadership was necessary.
In 2008 Ahavas Yisrael’s president and board approached Rabbi Jaffe and asked him to serve as rav of AY around his day job. He and his rebbetzin considered the surprise opportunity and decided to accept the offer. And a truly wonderful relationship began.
Rabbi Jaffe has brought an abundance of energy to his role and greatly expanded the shul’s Torah learning opportunities. He holds a “Breakfast With a Touch of Class” after minyan on Sunday mornings, with lessons in Halacha; organizes and teaches “Perek on the Lawn” classes on Pirkei Avot in different shul members’ homes or backyards during the weeks between Pesach and Shavuot; runs a Summer Learning program focused on Gemara on weekday nights; teaches a monthly women’s shiur on “Female Personalities in Tanach” in the fall, winter and spring; and presents a brief Daf Yomi B’Halacha class before weekday morning minyan.
Rebbetzin Rivka Jaffe has also found ways to make a big impact on the shul. She works closely with the shul’s sisterhood and youth departments and helps out with many of their programs. She coordinates an annual Women’s Melave Malka, bringing together ladies from the different shuls for fun events like a talent show (2017) and a variation of the Chopped cooking show (2018). She partners with a lay leader, Ida Scheiner, to conduct an annual Community Clothing Collection & Giveaway in the early spring.
Rebbetzin Jaffe also helped launch a fundraising idea that’s been a runaway hit. Working with Yaakov Kader, they formed Team AY—a group of shul members who enjoy running and were interested in organized races. Members of Team AY have participated in marathons in Philadelphia; Washington, DC; Tel Aviv; and other areas and used these occasions as fundraisers for the shul, raising close to $40,000 in the past six years.
The Jaffes energetic involvement in AY is all the more noteworthy because they both have busy day jobs and a family of six children. Rebbetzin Rivka is a pediatric occupational therapist at Bright Beginnings in Piscataway. Rabbi Jaffe teaches Chumash, Gemara and Halacha to different grades at the Frisch School in Paramus. He also coordinates the Sephardic morning minyan in the school and holds unofficial chavrutot with different students in the early morning and during lunch. In their work in AY they give credit to their children, who Rabbi Jaffe says “are very supportive of the demands of this role and all the guests we bring into our home. It’s a real team effort.”
Ahavas Yisrael continues to grow. It purchased the building it occupies in early 2014 and attracts attention from across the community with its Simchat Torah and Purim luncheons and other social programs. AY members credit the rabbi as a primary cause of their success and are enthusiastic when they talk about him.
“Rabbi Jaffe is one of the most genuine and dedicated people I know,” says Avi Berger, a Gabbai and former shul president. “He has a passion for Torah and tefillah and a penchant for incorporating humor in his talks. He is a great speaker and a major attraction of our shul.”
“I’ve learned a lot about proper tefillah from Rabbi Jaffe,” says Joey Frish, chair of the shul’s annual breakfast. “I admire and am inspired by his diverse background, his love of music and appreciation of Chassidus and his sincere approach to Halacha.”
“Rabbi Jaffe’s loving and caring personality helps all his congregants create a strong bond, which makes everyone feel welcome and included,” says Chezkie Mark. “We’re very fortunate to have him!”
By Harry Glazer
For more information on Congregation Ahavas Yisrael and the shul breakfast, see the AY website at www.ayedison.org.