Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake kicks off the new year with a new rabbi and a new cantor — both, as it happens, passionately committed to members’ spiritual growth.
“I want to hear their questions,” Rabbi David Klatzker said. He wants congregants to appreciate the spiritual dimensions of Jewish life, he added.
Rabbi Klatzker is the shul’s transitional or interim rabbi. He is replacing Rabbi Benjamin Shull, who chose to move to Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville, Maryland. “A transitional rabbi does all the things a regular rabbi does, but has a special focus on helping the congregation deal with change,” Rabbi Klatzker said. Some people get anxious when their rabbi leaves, because “there’s a certain element of mourning.
“The interim rabbi tries to deal with that, trying to focus the congregation on the many good things that are going on, that are truly life-giving,” he continued. “We build on those things.” It is also important for the interim rabbi to make small changes in how things are done, he said, noting that he will try to work with the shul’s search committee as it looks for a permanent rabbi. He hopes to help committee members pick the right candidate for the position.
His passion is for teaching, whether children, teenagers, or adults, Rabbi Klatzer said. “I share my own spiritual life with the congregation,” he said. “I talk about what I’m experiencing and feeling — pertaining to the Torah portion, holidays, or whatever is going on — and invite them to dialogue with me. It works well — better than throwing out answers to questions that have never been asked.”
Rabbi Klatzker already has started to interview members of the congregation. “I tell people that my job as transitional rabbi is to teach Torah and go out for coffee,” he said. The position suits him well. “I’m energized by changes,” he said. “I enjoy parachuting into a community and working for a specific period of time.”
He said that as far as he knows, he is the only Conservative rabbi who has been accredited as a “transition specialist” by the Interim Ministry Network, a two-year training program in leading congregations through change.
The network, offered mainly for Christian clergy but increasingly popular among Reform rabbis, was started some 30 years ago, when churches started to engage interim ministers and devised a special training program to help them.
“They discovered it was very successful,” he said. It works well for him too. When his three grown children — Micah, Judah, and Meira — moved out of the house, he and his wife, Randy Katz — “a recovering attorney and Jewish educator” — were able to move around more freely, he said.
An experienced religious leader, Rabbi Klatzker worked in congregations in Natick, Mass. (where he served as associate rabbi to Rabbi Harold Kushner — “I learned a great deal from him,” he said); Erdenheim, Penn.; Peabody, Mass.; Long Beach, Calif., and Commack, N.Y.
He loves teaching people of all ages, Rabbi Klatzker said, and he noted that increasing numbers of youngsters will soon be entering the synagogue’s early childhood program. “Because the Washington Township YJCC has closed, we are picking up a lot of those young families,” he said. “It will be challenging — but a good thing for the congregation. It will also work out for the larger community.”
A graduate of Pomona College in California, Rabbi Klatzker did graduate work in Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and later earned a Ph.D. from Temple University and was given an honorary doctor of divinity degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also has been the co-chairman of the Philadelphia Conservative Introduction to Judaism program and chaired the Interfaith Outreach Committee of the Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Massachusetts, which helps support interfaith families. He also studied pastoral psychology at the Philadelphia Psychiatric Center and Jewish family education at the Whizin Institute in Los Angeles.
Cantor Alan Sokoloff
Cantor Alan Sokoloff, the synagogue’s new chazzan, who took up his position on July 1, will join Rabbi Klatzker on the bimah in Woodcliff Lake. He is replacing Cantor Mark Biddelman, who retired after 48 years at the shul.
“Actually, I was in Israel then,” on his official start date, Cantor Sokoloff said; he arrived at the synagogue on July 15. “I trained twins from New York City for their b’nai mitzvah and they took me with them to Jerusalem to officiate.”
Cantor of the Westchester Jewish Center in Mamaroneck for some 14 years, the chazzan also taught at the Solomon Schechter High School in Hartsdale, N.Y., where he led Friday morning tefilah and taught Torah trope to fourth-graders. “That culminated in a siyyum Bereishit,” he said. “The entire fourth grade read Torah.” He continues to volunteer at the school.
“I love what I do, and I love being a cantor,” he said, noting that his duties in Woodcliff Lake will include leading services on Shabbat and festivals, preparing b’nai mitzvah, teaching seventh-graders in the shul’s religious school, and participating in its adult education program.
In July, the cantor added another line to his résumé, receiving rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Spiritual Leadership Institute, the Manhattan-based program run by Rabbi Steven Blane, who used to live in Bergenfield.
“But here I’ll be the cantor,” Cantor Sokoloff said. “I have been a cantor for 25 years, a fact that I am very proud of. I am the cantor at Temple Emanuel and hope to be in that role for many years to come.”
His goal is to inspire his students, he added, “using the music of the prayer book and the Torah to reach and make a connection with them, whether they are 12 years old or adult.”
He also hopes to have the opportunity to sing with members of the congregation, and he plans to share the bimah with Cantor Emeritus Mark Biddelman on the High Holy Days. Congregants will “hear established, loved melodies and learn both new and traditional melodies,” he said.
His strength, he added, is his ability to establish strong bonds with young people and adults alike, “providing a spiritual and social connection to the synagogue and to our Jewish community.” He prides himself on continuing these relationships “long after the bar mitzvah.”
Recently, Cantor Sokoloff said, he took a former student to breakfast, as the young man was about to leave for the Israeli army. He also maintains email connections to college students. “Teaching is key, using the language of our people and the music of our people to reach them and establish connections,” he said.
He is pleased to have the opportunity to meet and work with a new community sharing with them his “skills, commitments, and talents.” Among those talents is cooking. “I love to cook and bake,” he said. “In religious school, I utilize the kitchen as an important part of my teaching. Students have the opportunity to create Jewish delicacies.”
The cantor and his wife, Erica — the director of Jewish life at Carmel Academy in Greenwich, Conn. — are the parents of Arielle and Ranan. His daughter is a group coordinator for the JDC in New York City; his son is an apprentice farmer and manager of the greenhouse at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, N.Y.
Cantor Sokoloff, who grew up in Sharon, Mass., and was a protégé of Cantor Harold Lew at Temple Israel of Sharon, continued his cantorial studies with Master Cantor David Bagley in Toronto and was a member of the Cantors Assembly class of 1990. In addition to his position at the Westchester Jewish Center, he also served in Albany, N.Y., and Des Moines, Iowa. He is an active member of the Cantors Assembly and a founding member of Kol Hazzanim: The Westchester Board of Cantors.
Rabbi Jennifer Schlosberg
Rabbi Jennifer Schlosberg is now the religious leader of the Glen Rock Jewish Center, replacing Rabbi Neil Tow.
Formerly the assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn Heights, N.Y. — a Long Island synagogue of some 700 families — Rabbi Schlosberg said that while the size difference between the two synagogues is quite marked, “many of the challenges of running them are similar.”
Her priority, she said, will be “a heavy focus on personal relationship building. I believe in making personal connections with people.” Like her colleagues, she is spending time meeting with members for one-on-one coffee dates. “Getting to know members can be very helpful and rewarding.” Her goal is to “increase and systematize support mechanisms,” first within the synagogue community, and later through outreach to the wider community, she said.
Rabbi Schlosberg said that she has experience working with young families, “a key to keeping our congregation moving forward.” She also is looking forward to opportunities for teaching and public speaking.
“My number one goal for this year may be different than for future years,” she said, indicating that at least initially she is not looking to make many changes.
“I learned from many of my mentors that creating change initially can be very jarring. There are already so many things going on with a transition. Relationship building is a priority.”
Rabbi Schlosberg, who recently moved to Fair Lawn with her husband, Micah, and their young daughter, said she has sent an email to the synagogue’s members, telling them not to expect any changes right away. “That’s not my goal,” she said, “although that’s not to say that things won’t be different. By nature I’m a different person” than the rabbi she is replacing.
There are some projects, however, that she would like to work on “sooner rather than later. I’d like to reinstitute our chesed efforts, to support those in great need,” whether after loss, illness, or the birth of a child. “I’d like to support families during their various life-cycle events, to systematize more the things we’re doing here that could benefit from a more organized process.”
Although inreach is her primary goal, she also looks forward to strengthening the synagogue’s social action program, which serves the wider community.
Ultimately, she said, she aims to build relationships with community members of all ages, and to incorporate the richness of the Jewish tradition into their lives in ways that speak to them most deeply and personally.
“I’m proud that this community is open to hearing new ideas and taking risks by trying something else,” she said. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll tweak it. There’s a willingness to try new things. I know it sounds like a cliché, but this is really an open and welcoming community.” A recent dessert reception sponsored by the shul’s sisterhood drew more than 80 women.
“It was very intergenerational,” she continued. “There were young moms who are nursery school parents interacting with and learning from seniors in their 80s. I haven’t really seen that interaction before, and I appreciate that feeling.”
A graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where she received a Neubauer fellowship, a Schusterman rabbinical fellowship, and a Legacy Heritage rabbinic fellowship, Rabbi Schlosberg interned at Congregation Ansche Chesed in Manhattan and the Dix Hills Jewish Center in Dix Hills, N.Y., while pursuing her rabbinical studies. She was also a Legacy Heritage rabbinic fellow at Congregation Ahavath Israel in Kingston, N.Y. As a chaplain at Bellevue Hospital and Jewish Home Lifecare, she received extensive training in pastoral care.
Before she began rabbinical school, Rabbi Schlosberg worked for Hillel as a Jewish outreach professional at Miami University in Ohio and at UC-Santa Barbara and then at Hillel’s Schusterman International Center in Washington, D.C. In addition to her advocacy for the LGBT community, she is a special needs advocate and has conducted prayer services for people who are blind, deaf, or hearing impaired.
Rabbi Schlosberg holds an M.A. in Jewish education from JTS and recently was selected as the first recipient of the outstanding alumni award from the Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at her undergraduate school, the University of Hartford.
Rabbi Jacob Lieberman
Changes are afoot in Ridgewood as well. Last month, the Jewish Standard reported that the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center had entered into a “strategic partnership” with Reconstructionist Congregation Beth Israel, which sold its synagogue and parsonage building in Maywood to share space, resources, and governance, among other things, with the Ridgewood synagogue.
RCBI’s new religious leader, Rabbi Jacob Lieberman, is now also the assistant rabbi at Temple Israel.
“The partnership is working very well,” Rabbi Lieberman said. “We’ve had some cross-pollination. Some members of Temple Israel have joined us, while some folks from Beth Israel have gotten involved in Temple Israel activities.
“Both groups are energizing the other,” he said, pointing out, however, that “we’re continuing to retain the Reconstructionist bent and trajectory.”
Rabbi Lieberman said his congregation, which had “some drop-off with the geographic shift” before he arrived, already has gotten its first new member. The “pain” for longtime members, he said, is not so much about having to drive to a new location as it is about “losing a building that represented the community’s center for so long.
“But we’re starting to heal,” he added, noting that he has instituted a “sacred space initiative, to make this space our own.”
A planned erev Rosh Hashanah dinner, which as far as he knows never has been tried before, is another new venture. The dinner is designed to fill a need, providing a place for those without deep connections to the Jewish community, or who didn’t grow up Jewish, or whose families are not local. It will take place at the Ridgewood shul at 5:30 p.m., one hour before services. It is his hope that in addition to members who want to attend, “folks will join us who were never part of the congregation.”
Rabbi Lieberman said he is not only a new rabbi in the community but literally a new rabbi. He graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in June this year and took up his pulpit in July.
His goals, he said, are mixed, combining “inreach/outreach and spiritual vitalization.”
“I’m not saying revitalization,” he said. “The congregation is spiritually vital. I want to encourage that and see that blossom.” To further this effort he is meeting with members at “homes and coffee shops and restaurants.
“I have experience in community organizing,” he said, noting that he previously worked in the labor movement. His plan is to meet with potential new members and work to form partnerships with other groups. His aim is to foster a community where members “support one another through community, spiritual seeking, and through Jewish practice and cultural expressions of Jewishness.”
In addition to creating a sacred space committee, “we are talking about having an art space within our prayer space,” he said, suggesting that the congregation might host gallery openings to display members’ artworks or perhaps offer musical events. His strength, he said, is that he is “creative, an out-of-the-box thinker.”
He also is looking into the idea of offering “cooking classes with the rabbi. I expect that food will be an important initiative,” he said, citing the significance of environmental activism and food justice as well as the importance of kashrut.
Rabbi Lieberman said he is also extremely interested in social justice, and there is much he would like to do in that area. He noted, however, that “I want to move on in coordination with Temple Israel,” which already has an active social action committee.
His position in Ridgewood is half-time — he also works at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College as the director of board relations. “I split my time between Philadelphia and Ridgewood, half a week in each location,” he said.