Congregation appoints rabbi as ‘first step’ toward growth

Congregation appoints rabbi as ‘first step’ toward growth

When the rabbinic search committee of Cong. Ahavat Shalom in Teaneck chose Rabbi Yehuda Halpert to serve as the synagogue’s first rabbi, members realized that the choice was particularly appropriate.

“He actually lived in this community after he got married,” said shul president Jacob Kramer. “He can relate to us; he knows what everyone is going through.”

Rabbi Yehuda Halpert

The congregation, housed at the Torah Academy of Bergen County and composed mainly of modern Orthodox Jews in their 20s, was founded in 2001, said Kramer. Serving the Teaneck Garden Apartments in the West Englewood neighborhood, the minyan existed previously “in various iterations,” said Kramer, noting that members davened at TABC with Tzemach Dovid, led by Rabbi Michael Taubes.

“When he got ready to leave, we formed our own congregation,” said Kramer, pointing out that Ahavat Shalom, with 115 member families, has no plans to leave TABC, mainly because of financial reasons. But now that they’ve “taken the first step” toward growth and hired a rabbi, Kramer is hopeful that the synagogue may someday expand.

“We felt we could do this [hire a rabbi] now,” he said. Up until now, the congregation operated without a rabbi, having members speak on Shabbat mornings and relying on outside rabbis to decide “important issues of Jewish law.” In 2007, the community decided to conduct a rabbinic search.

“We’re starting off slow – we have no timeline,” said Kramer, adding that having a rabbi will help make the congregation “more legitimate. Now that we have a rabbi, we hope that people will become more involved.”

In fact, he noted, when Halpert, a Teaneck resident, led services at the congregation for the first time last Shabbat, there was a large turnout, “with more children than ever before.” As a result, some congregants began to discuss the need for a youth program during davening.

“People move here when they’re very young and first get married,” he said, adding that most members remain for a period of two to six years. “Rabbi Halpert – a nice, eloquent, and outgoing man – understands what’s it’s like for people just starting families.”

For his part, Halpert, who will initially serve the congregation on a part-time basis, also believes he is uniquely suited for this congregation. As a practicing attorney, he said, he can use his experience of “being in the real world” to “relate to issues and concerns the congregants are feeling.”

An attorney with Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, Halpert is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Law and received his ordination from Yeshiva University. A former youth director at Teaneck’s Rinat Yisrael, he served as an interim rabbi at several area synagogues before taking on the position at Ahavat Shalom.

“We were looking for someone with a full-time job,” said Kramer, pointing out that the synagogue is not yet in a position to support a rabbi and his family. Halpert and his wife have three children, ages 9, 7, and 3.

The new rabbi has large plans for the congregation, which, he said, “has a sense of moving forward.”

“It has always had a desire for religious growth,” he said. “Now it has come to fruition,” he added, explaining that he plans to “continue to build on and strengthen their program of informal Jewish studies and create more formal classes.”

“The Teaneck Apartment community is a growing, vibrant community that recognizes the importance of spiritual growth and the growth of Jewish values,” he said. “Now they’re taking a step forward to attain that growth.”

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