|Rabbi Yizchok and Bina Lerman stand with their two older children.|
Rabbi Yizchok Lerman has done a good deal of traveling and filled an impressive number of roles. Now, the new religious leader of Temple Beth-El in Rutherford will marshal his many skills to help grow the 60-year-old Bergen County congregation.
Rabbi Lerman, who will lead High Holy Day services in Rutherford together with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Eliezer Perlstein – “We’ve done some singing together,” he said. “He has a nice voice.” – studied in Morristown, Canada, and London, receiving smicha from Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel.
“I was studying at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown,” he said. “Rabbi Lau came from Israel to test us.”
Having led classes and outreach programs in the United States, Australia, England, and Israel, Rabbi Lerman – who will move here from Brooklyn with his wife, Bina, and their three young children – also has created many videos on Jewish topics for the online academy Torahcafe.com and was the founder of the Chitrik Academy, which offers interactive video classes on the Talmud.
In his message on Beth El’s website, he wrote out that although “I strongly hold onto our rich Jewish heritage, [I also] embrace the technology and advances of our times. I teach Torah using PowerPoint, Prezi [a cloud-based presentation software], and video presentations.”
Rabbi Lerner chose the Rutherford congregation “because my wife and I wanted to join a warm community. We feel we can help it expand,” he said, noting that “we have a lot of experience in outreach.” Among other things, he said, he will try to attract younger families to the synagogue and expand classes and programs.
“I’ve done all types of outreach,” said the rabbi, who is affiliated with Chabad. “I was brought down by different shuls to help expand their programs.” For example, he said, he went to Denver to help develop classes and build membership.
He has been doing this kind of work since he was a teen, he said. “I’d meet unaffiliated Jews and encourage them to take little steps. People can feel threatened – they don’t want too much all at once. You help them take small steps.”
“I enjoy interacting with people from all backgrounds, regardless of their religious affiliation,” he added. “I feel this could benefit [the Rutherford] community in a permanent way.”
Now teaching 10th grade students at a yeshiva in Forest Hills, Queens, Rabbi Lerman also is trained as a Red Cross lifeguard and volunteer prison chaplain.
His decision to train as a lifeguard was also a kind of outreach effort. “As a teenager I always wanted to help people, so I learned CPR and first aid,” he said. While he never worked full time in that capacity, he has had the opportunity to help people in distress. Similarly, while he has not worked as a prison chaplain, he took advantage of the opportunity to receive state training in that field.
“I learned a lot about the prison system,” he said.
Rabbi Lerman said he spent a year in London “helping out with different youth groups and creating programs. I did public speaking on different Jewish topics, taught at a seminary, and [addressed] women’s groups.”
“I hope we can establish a strong community in south Bergen County,” he said. “We’ll see what the needs of the community are and go from there. Our goal is to make a place where everyone can feel welcome, regardless of their past affiliation.”
For more information, go to www.rutherfordjewish.org.