Back in the 1920's, a group of Jewish chicken farmers in the area got together and founded Congregation Ahavat Achim. In the almost 90 years since then, the conservative congregation has not only expanded its physical size, but also the size of the community.
Rabbi Michael Klein said since that time several big events have occurred including their move to the current building on Windeler Rd. and a merge with another conservative congregation in Lakewood. That has brought about the current entity known as .
Klein, who became the full time rabbi in 1988, said the merger helped both congregations. "The sale of their building in Lakewood and the proceeds of that building helped us greatly expand and beautify our location here in Howell," he said.
Ahavat Olam now has more than 300 members from not only Howell and Lakewood but also Jackson, Freehold, Manalapan and Colts Neck. Klein said bringing together people from so many towns presents its own challenges and benefits. "I try my very best to meet the needs of a diverse population in terms of age, in terms of Judaic knowledge and behavior and to try to bring everyone under one roof," he said.
Rabbi Klein said that because his is one of the only conservative congregations in the area it helps to attract more people. He also said nurturing their conservative beliefs is not always an easy thing to do. "I call it walking the tight rope. We don't want to fall all the way to the left, or all the way to the right. We want to find a good balance between ritual behavior and traditional Jewish law, and yet interpret it for the modern world," he said.
Working alongside Cantor David Amar, Klein said they take pride in bringing so many people together. "My goal has always been, and I take pride in this, trying to make Judaism a relevant, meaningful way of shaping ones life through the lens of Conservative Judaism."
That effort includes bringing in outside entertainment like a that was held at the temple last year. "We're always trying to bring people into our doors for numerous reasons and then hopefully make them feel comfortable from a ritual perspective as well," Klein said.
Whether they come every Friday night and Saturday morning or only for the high holy days, Klein said he wants people to feel at home when they walk into the sanctuary. "I would like to make people feel that this is a place for them not just three times a year, but a place for them to come worship, to find meaning, to learn more about their Jewish culture and their history on a more regular basis."
On Monday night Howell Township will hold its annual Christmas tree and menorah lighting ceremony. Klein said his congregation has been a part of the event since its inception. Especially during the holiday season, Klein said it is important that the younger generation remember their beliefs and traditions. "We want them to understand that yes, of course we live in an area that is not predominately Jewish. But we want to give them a very strong feeling of their own religious background and make them feel proud of their history and behaviors as well."
The rabbi said he was glad that the township has made such a concerted effort to include residents of all faiths in the annual tradition. "We are very grateful to the township for recognizing the Jewish community," he said "To me, it's very important and appreciated that they can recognize the Jewish community in Howell."
He also said that the members of his congregation are glad to be able to help the community ring in the holiday season together. "It's very good because it gives everyone an appreciation of the season and to realize that everyone should have respect and honor for other people's beliefs and behaviors."
In addition to the regular schedule of services, the temple also offers Sunday school and other activities including a men's club and a sisterhood group as well as a wide variety of social activities. "Anything that would make people want to become involved and come through our doors, we offer that," Klein said.
More information can be found on the congregation's website, or by calling (732) 367-1677.