The History of the FJCC
The history of the Flemington Jewish Community Center (FJCC) does not begin with the founding of the organization, but goes back to the early part of the twentieth century.
Beginning in 1885, hundreds of thousands of Jewish people were liberated from a life of serfdom under the Russian Tzars; and a wealthy German humanitarian, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, sponsored immigration to America. A “back to the land movement” was prevalent and many idealistic immigrants from Eastern Europe saw an opportunity in this “Land of Liberty” to fulfill their dreams of owning land. Followed soon after by many others, the first Jewish family came to rural Hunterdon County NJ in 1908.
The new Jewish settlers wanted social as well as cultural activities. Encouraged by the Federation of Jewish Farmers, which had been formed by 1913, they held meetings in farmers’ homes. Soon they organized a purchasing and loan cooperative; however, this organization did not survive. The need for an organization that could bring the different groups together was most evident. On March 3, 1922, the Hebrew Citizens Congregation of Hunterdon was founded with sixteen Jewish families participating. It was primarily a religious organization and their activities focused on the observation of the high holidays.
The desire for an organization that would offer not only religious, but cultural and social activities as well laid the foundation for the formation of the Jewish Community Center of Flemington by a handful of farmers, local businessmen and their wives. On December 6, 1926, the congregation was founded, and on May 27, 1927, was incorporated under the laws of the State of New Jersey with the following officers and directors: Samuel Potter (President), Isaac Pesachowitz, Philip Eisenman, Joseph Berkowitz and Charles Levine. This group appeared before Judge A.O. Robbins and signed the papers of Incorporation of the Flemington Jewish Community Center. For a few more years, the congregation held services in members’ homes, at the Flemington Opera House and even the Mayor’s office. On June 1, 1931, the congregation purchased a small house on Park Avenue in Flemington from Max Potter. It was remodeled to serve the needs of the then existing Jewish Community, bringing to reality their desire for a religious and cultural center. For almost twenty years, the Center on Park Avenue was the scene of extensive activity on behalf of the members and neighbors. Soon, that building became too small to accommodate the increasing population.
Plans were formulated for a new and larger synagogue. However, World War II necessitated postponement. The crying need of displaced Jews throughout the world forced the organization to devote all its energies to fundraising and thousands of dollars were collected. At the same time, the government’s need for funds to finance the war necessitated the purchase of Defense Bonds and all building plans were temporarily abandoned. Rallies for the sale of bonds were held in the Center and thousands of dollars were raised for this purpose.
In 1947, when the war was over, renewed efforts for the new building began. On May 23, 1948, the congregation constructed and dedicated a synagogue on East Main Street in Flemington. That facility remained FJCC’s home for nearly 60 years. Rabbi Maurice Idell was hired as the permanent spiritual leader. Classes in Hebrew and Yiddish were established, a Ladies’ Auxiliary provided invaluable aid, a children’s choir was formed and religious services highlighted Friday evenings.
Rabbi Evan Jaffe
Then, in 1987, the congregation engaged Rabbi Evan Jaffe as the new spiritual leader of the FJCC. He served as both Rabbi and cantor, read Torah, taught in the Hebrew School and personally prepared each student for their Bar Mitzvah. He served as the Jewish Chaplain for the Hunterdon Medical Center and the Hunterdon Developmental Center, where he worked weekly with severely disabled adult residents. The Rabbi was also involved with a number of local social service organizations: Hunterdon Interfaith Outreach Council, and Open ROAD (Religious Organizations Accepting Disabilities) which arranges transportation services for people with disabilities to houses of worship of their choice.
Over time, the congregation outgrew the building on Main Street and needed a more modern facility. A new synagogue building was completed in February 2006, and together with Rabbi Jaffe, the membership celebrated by marching over a mile carrying the eight Torahs under a chuppah from the old building in Flemington to the new one in Raritan Township. Under Rabbi Jaffe’s leadership, the congregation commissioned the writing of their first brand new Torah. The realization of this dream was one of Rabbi Jaffe’s last before his untimely passing in 2015.
Currently, the FJCC is led by Rabbi Eric Cohen, a dedicated Board of Trustees, staff and a host of active volunteers. The Hebrew School offers an ever expanding variety of programs and classes for our children. We are proud to host engaging speakers, holiday celebrations, social opportunities and social action programs through the CENTER SERIES. Our new home, a 23,000 square foot community center on 6 acres serves the growing membership with a 150 seat sanctuary, a small chapel, nursery school classrooms, Hebrew school classrooms, two kitchens, a bridal room and a large social hall. It is our fervent hope that for years to come the FJCC will be the scene of community-building, education and community gatherings for all Jewry and the people of Flemington.