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Ocean County synagogues will use open house programs next month to make new members feel at home, with several congregations displaying their ongoing growth and transformation.
“Synagogue membership is vital to maintaining a strong, vibrant Ocean County Jewish community that can provide for the community’s future generations and enable them to thrive,” said Dr. Bernie Grabelle, president of the Jewish Federation of Ocean County, adding that the open house program has been going on for 15 years. “The partnership between the synagogues and the Jewish federation ensures members of the local community will enjoy a well-rounded Jewish approach, covering the essentials of Jewish spirituality, tikkun olam, and mutual responsibility for all Jews.”
Temple Beth Or in Brick will host a barbeque as its open house Aug. 30, starting at 11 a.m. Ever since Rabbi Royi Shaffin joined the congregation a year ago, services have been livelier with more singing, said Marty Wassner, former vice president and ritual committee member. The Conservative synagogue is planning comedy shows and the installation of new lighting inside the building, as well as new plants on the outside, he said.
“Hopefully, we will have people coming and seeing the new Temple Beth Or,” Wassner said. “It’s light, it’s easy, it’s refreshing.”
Congregation Sha’arey Ha-Yam in Barnegat will hold its open house with Friday night services and an oneg at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7. Now entering its sixth year, the only Reform synagogue between Toms River and Atlantic City continues to grow as membership approaches 100 people. 
“That’s a milestone in this area,” President Cyndy Friedland said of making it to six years. “We are trying to bring awareness and let people know we are here.”
Sha’arey Ha-Yam has been targeting interfaith families at community fairs and following up with an email newsletter to prospective members, Friedland said. The synagogue has a Hebrew school starting age 6, but wants to add more adult education programs such as “Introduction to Judaism” conversion classes, she said.
Congregation Ahavat Olam in Howell will use their Aug. 9 open house, at 10 a.m., to explain to prospective members how the Conservative synagogue was formed a year ago from the merger of Ahavat Achim in Howell and Ahavat Shalom in Lakewood. The synagogue runs Shabbat programs for tots, adult education courses, communal Shabbat dinners, and guest lectures, Rabbi Michael Klein said.
“We will make clear to new members the strength we will garner from the two congregations being together,” Klein said.
At Beth Am Shalom in Lakewood, officials will try to address the specific needs of prospective members and orient them with the synagogue’s new building, slated for completion in November 2010, at a meet and greet program 10 a.m. Aug. 30. One of the Reform congregation’s highlights this year will be a concert by legendary Jewish composer Debbie Friedman Nov. 21 at Toms River Intermediate East, with an expected attendance of 800 people.
“Everyone has different needs and different desires, so we give people a general overview of our temple,” President Lee Krislow said. “We sit with people on an individual basis and try to answer their needs and concerns.”
Congregational B’nai Israel of Toms River held its open house in the morning June 26, with a number of multi-generational families in attendance among a crowd of about 50 people, Rabbi Ellen Wolintz-Fields said.
The first Tuesday of every month at B’nai Israel features adult education classes, in addition to a mussar discussion with guest speakers the fourth Monday of the month. While the JCC of Long Beach Island in Spray Beach does not have a specific open house program, “pretty much every Shabbat is open house” at the synagogue, said Rose Valentine, a board member and past president. The JCC has a full slate of programs this summer including an arts festival Aug. 2, a mahjongg tournament Aug. 4, a bazaar Aug. 12, a tour of homes on the island’s southern end Aug. 17, and Kabbalat Shabbat on the beach Aug. 21.
The JCC has new faces every summer since about 80 percent of its 260 family units are strictly summer residents, Valentine said, while many of the year-round families are also members of second congregations but enjoy the JCC’s beach environment for yom tov.
Chabad of Toms River will run three, six-week semesters of Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) courses this year, Rabbi Moshe Gourarie said, including “Soul Quest” in the fall on the topic of the afterlife, “Portrait of a Leader” in the winter, and a Holocaust course in the spring. Each semester costs $75 with a 10 percent discount for couples, with enrollment at Chabad also offers Tefilin club every Sunday morning short prayers and bagels and lox, as well as a Psalms class over lunch every Tuesday at 12:30 during the summer months at the Manchester Public Library.


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