Passaic and the Rabbi-Centric Nature of Growth Oriented Shuls

I had the pleasure of spending last Shabbos in Passaic. In the past 10 years, Passaic has been one of the fastest growing Orthodox communities in America. The residents love their town and almost everybody we passed on the street said good Shabbos. I davened at two Shuls on different sides of town and talked to a few people there about the state of Passaic Shuls. Although Passaic is known to have a solid Baalei Teshuva base, one friend said that the majority of residents are Bnei Torah from YU and other Yeshivas.

What was apparent is that people take their davening very seriously. The Shuls were quiet and the davening was a moderate pace. There are many opportunities for learning. The Shuls fit the growth culture model.

My discussions highlighted that in growth oriented Shuls, the opportunities to be involved in running the Shul have diminished. The people are looking for a serious place to daven and learn and the Shuls are primarily run by the Rabbi and a very small group of people. It’s similar to a Shtiebel, except the Rabbi has a little less control, because he isn’t assuming the financial responsibility. The financing is a combination of the standard fees and donations.

I think the main factor for the decreased input in these Shuls is that people respect and accept the authority of their Rabbeim. That leads to the Rabbi being asked for input in more day to day decisions. While this structure prevents some of the disagreements present in the more member-run Shuls, it does lead to less involvement and sometimes a degree of disenchantment by people who want to be involved.

There are always trade-offs in Shul structures. It’s great and important to have a respected leader, but perhaps it makes sense to carve out space for the members to be more involved in the Shul’s operations.

6 thoughts on “Passaic and the Rabbi-Centric Nature of Growth Oriented Shuls”

  1. We have very close friends in Passaic, with whom we have spent more than a few Shabbosim and even a Yom Tov or two. There is a wide range of shuls, rabanim and Batei Medrashim where Torah, Tefilah and Chesed are taken quite seriously and are literally the main priorities of each Mosad. I fully concur with the above comment, and would add that a Shabbos in Passaic always leaves me with a spiritual injection. It is a great community for Bnei and Bnos Torah, especially BTs, who want a yeshivishe community, but don’t want to commute from Lakewood or Monsey to NYC.

    1. Steve, this visit made me understand even more why people love the community.

      I’m not sure I would call the range of Shul types wide, but I think they’re definitely addressing the needs of the community.

  2. Mark, it was great seeing and spending time with you last Shabbos!
    There are a lot of shuls in Passaic, KE”H, and though I have been involved directly in only two or three of them over my 20-plus years here, it’s probably the case that there is some variation in the level of involvement and democracy in the various shuls. I wonder, however, when I hear about “disenchantment.” As a general rule, there is not an excess of people seeking to be involved in running shuls; it’s the opposite. What is “running” or “involvement” in a shul? Mostly work: setting up rooms for kiddushes and simchas, making sure there’s food for shalosh seudos, getting things repaired or installed or obtained on a shoestring budget, arranging people to give shiurim and making sure people know about them and come to them, and, of course, raising and contributing money.
    Are the people you spoke to who are disenchanted finding that they are being left out of these opportunities for involvement?

    1. Ron, actually the people I talked to are involved in those activities, but they would also like to be involved at a higher level of decision making.

      Of course this issue is not unique to Passaic, it’s just that as a fairly new growing community many/most of the Shuls have been formed using what I’ve been calling the growth oriented structure. And because these Shuls are smaller and tend to be more Rabbi-centric, they need less involvement and can be run by a smaller group of people with guidance from the Rav. This is not a bad thing, it just creates a different set of issues.

      I think that the involvement at a higher level can be addressed and I hope to share some things I’ve seen work in future weeks.

  3. I live in Passaic. It has a lot to offer, but needs work in many areas like any town. One of the big factors in its growth is its commutability. It’s on a train line and next to two highways. Another factor is its relative affordability, for New York that is. Every time we consider moving elsewhere the prices stop us cold.

    I wouldn’t say that the growth shuls owe their success strictly to rabbinic wonderfulness. Has more to do with good administration, locale, facilities and the fact that somebody was going to grow due to the great location, communitingwise.

  4. Some areas attract young Orthodox adults and some repel them (that is, they don’t come, or they leave and never move back).

    Reasons include the presence or lack of these (no particular order):

    1. Available jobs there or within a reasonable commute
    2. Elements of Jewish infrastructure (schools at all levels, shuls, kollelim, shops, restaurants…)
    3. Rabbis and others with good leadership qualities
    4. Friendly, hospitable people
    5. Potential spouses live there
    6. Affordability
    7. Climate

    There are also many trade-offs among these. Normally no one factor would account for a place’s growth or shrinkage. Anyway, we all should aspire to one particular move—to Israel.

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