TSTI member looks back on 60 years of community and service

Photo Courtesy of TSTI
Matty Goldberg and Rabbi Daniel Cohen stand in front of a tapestry the Goldbergs donated to TSTI.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — To say that Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange is a central part of Matty Goldberg’s life would only tell half the story; it is better to say that Goldberg is a central figure in the life of TSTI.

Goldberg and her husband, Dan, have been members of the Reform synagogue since 1957, when it was Temple Sharey Tefilo in East Orange, where the couple lived as a young married couple. Through the years and through a synagogue merger, the Goldbergs have been steadfast figures and temple leaders. Now in her 80s, Matty Goldberg remains every bit as active there as she was when she and her husband were raising their children in South Orange and Maplewood. The couple now reside in West Orange.

“As a young mother in the early 1950s, I met other women in the park with our children. Some of them told me about the Mr. & Mrs. Club at Temple Sharey Tefilo, and that we could attend as non-members,” Matty Goldberg said in a press release. “I wanted to arrange a baby naming for our daughter so I met with Rabbi Sulties, who encouraged us to join the Mr. & Mrs. Club. We attended the monthly meetings and met a lot of young families; we’re still friendly with some of them today.”

Dan Goldberg eventually became club president in 1957, at which point the Goldbergs joined the synagogue. By then, they had formed a strong bond with the community.

“We grew up with the temple,” Matty Goldberg said. “You join so many organizations and just pay dues but with TSTI it was something special. I loved everybody, and it quickly became a part of us, part of our lives.”

Rabbi Daniel Cohen expressed admiration and appreciation for Goldberg’s years of service to the synagogue.

“Matty Goldberg is the heart and soul of our TSTI community. Her tireless work on our behalf is always focused on what is best for the congregation as a whole. She never looks for credit and it is never about her,” Cohen said. “In this way, Matty embodies the best of Jewish leadership. I’m proud to be a card-carrying member of the Matty Goldberg Fan Club.”

Through the years, Matty Goldberg has served TSTI in myriad ways. Every year for the High Holy Days, she polishes the decorative silver that adorns the Torah scrolls and changes their covers to the ceremonial white ones — tasks she took up decades ago without fanfare from another member.

“It’s a part of the holiday and to me, it’s such an honor, a labor of love,” she said.

She has chaired numerous events, has baked countless challahs for celebrations and her baked treats have graced many oneg Shabbat tables on Friday nights.

One of her most influential initiatives started 25 years ago when she spearheaded TSTI’s Renaissance Group. The program for mature adults had been growing at other Reform synagogues and the rabbi at the time suggested that TSTI start one. That was all Matty Goldberg needed to hear. The group plans social, cultural and educational programs throughout the year, including the popular Lunch & Learn study groups with clergy and the annual Senior Seder. Renaissance Group programs are open to older adults from the area as well as TSTI members.

Community service and nonprofit volunteering have always been a part of Matty Goldberg’s adult life. In addition to TSTI, she was involved with the Girl Scouts in Orange and served on the board of the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey and of J-ADD. Like many other temple members, she helps at the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, picking up bagels the night before TSTI’s participation day there and packing bundles the next morning for clients. She has volunteered for the past 10 years in the gift shop at Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange.

Matty Goldberg’s temple scrapbook is filled with clips and photos of some of the high-profile speakers who appeared there, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. Sen. Frank Lautenberg was a member starting when the synagogue was in East Orange and continuing in South Orange until his death in 2013; he was honored with a reading at the High Holy Days every year.

“It was always thrilling when he attended services,” Matty Goldberg said. “He’d tell us what was going on in Washington and was charming to everybody.”

Moving through the 1960s, the synagogue offered some innovative programs for the time, such as Shabbat ’68, with a Moog synthesizer embellishing the prayers and songs, and an art show, which Matty Goldberg remembers as “a big deal” back then. Of the events hosted at TSTI today, she said: “I’m so happy we have so many young people who want to get involved, and that we’re doing so many great programs for new families who are coming in.”

The 1970s brought the opportunity to help resettle Soviet Jews who immigrated to the area, and 15 Russian couples were married in a group wedding at TSTI. Goldberg sees similarities with the work all three South Orange synagogues are doing now for the Syrian refugees here. Of the committee chairs and volunteers who are helping those families resettle, Goldberg said, “They are doing life-changing work that will stay with all of them the rest of their lives.”

“So much of what Matty does is done quietly and humbly,” TSTI board President Sue Wishnow said in the release. “She is one of TSTI’s most treasured leaders and we have all learned from her loving example.”