Perth Amboy Shul Trial Set To Begin Today


perth-amboy-shulAfter months of legal wrangling, the trial over the sale of Perth Amboy’s historic shul, Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh, is set to begin this morning. Mr. Herschel Chomsky, a member of the shul‘s presidium, as well as Dr. Alan Goldsmith, a past president and shul board member, are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that is seeking to prevent the sale of the 108-year-old makom tefillah to an Indian meditational organization.

In 1891, the First Perth Amboy Mutual Aid Society began holding tefillos in members’ homes. Growing rapidly, the kehillah purchased a building on Elm Street and incorporated in 1903 as Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh, erecting its Madison Avenue structure with 300 member families. At its peak, the shul boasted a membership of over 800 Yidden. Unfortunately, in recent years, the Orthodox population has dwindled and there is currently less than a minyan of Orthodox Jews left in Perth Amboy. To the great dismay of the Jewish community at large, four out of the five board members are not frum and fail to appreciate the kedushah of a shul. Consequently, they have proceeded with their efforts to sell this historic shul to this group while showing utter disregard for halacha.

Mr. Chomsky, the son of Rabbi Aaron Chomsky who served as the shul‘s rov from 1983 to 1992, is the only frum member of the presidium. He has spearheaded the effort to keep the shul open for the community at large and to serve as the future home of a yeshiva or frum organization.

“We really feel that the city of Perth Amboy has a great amount of potential for future growth,” Mr. Chomsky told “We have a beautiful building. We are very close to many large Jewish communities as well as New York City, so this can really be an attractive place for young couples or a yeshiva to consider as a permanent home. In fact, Yeshiva Meon Hatorah was willing to consider moving here, but the non-frum board members made it so inhospitable for them that the move is currently on hold.”

Attorney Larry Loigman has agreed to argue the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. He is being assisted by Mr. Ira Heller, a popular singer and attorney. Mr. Heller was a college classmate of Mr. Chomsky and served as the shul‘s chazzan one year during the Yomim Noraim. The two have maintained their friendship over the years, and when this issue arose, Mr. Chomsky did not hesitate to call his old friend to ask for his help.

“We have to realize that when we are dealing with a makom kadosh, when we are defending one of our holy sites from being defiled and used for mundane purposes, we must fight to the end,” Mr. Heller told us. “While I happen to think that we can win this lawsuit outright, we must realize that regardless of the outcome, it is our duty and responsibility to fight for what’s right. We are fighting for our principles while the other side is fighting for money. When we do what’s right, we can’t lose.”

The defendants in the case argue that the shul is serving no purpose and that money can best be put to use elsewhere.

“It’s a sad thing that we have to close this shul,” 90-year-old presidium member Shep Sewitch told the New Jersey Jewish News, “but we have no more Jews left in Perth Amboy.”

Shep and his brother Bill, also a presidium member, are retired contractors. A year after the original shul was destroyed in a massive fire in 1975, they built a new one on the corner of Market and Water streets.

Mr. Chomsky vehemently disagrees with Mr. Sewitch’s contention.

“Despite the efforts of those who want to close the shul, several members still show up on Shabbos to daven,” he said. “We have to daven in the hall, since no light is provided. They also refuse to put the heat or air conditioner on. The police have been brought in several times to turn the lights back on, but the defendants placed a lock on the circuit breakers, making it impossible.”

“We do need financial support for the legal effort,” said one askan. “Although Attorney Loigman has offered to handle a substantial amount of the work on a pro bono basis, there are still legal costs and expenses that will be incurred.”

In addition, those who have ties to Perth Amboy, or have experience in similar cases, are asked to be in touch with the askonim. Donations can be made payable to “Committee to Save Shaarey Tefiloh” and mailed to P.O.B. 02402, Perth Amboy, NJ, 08862. Tax deductible checks can be made out to Chessed of Lakewood and mailed to the above address.

{Casriel Newscenter}


  1. I wish them much Bracha Vehatzlacha in saving the Mikdash Meaat! It is a beautiful shul. I’ve visited there a few times when Rabbi Klatsko was the Rov.