|Rabbi Joseph Prouser|
While he doesn’t yet know a lot about Bergen County – he comes to it most recently from Baldwin, New York, on Long Island’s south shore – Rabbi Joseph Prouser is “getting to know the area.”
“I’m married to a New Jersey girl,” he said, “and I have family throughout the state.”
His wife, Ora Horn Prouser – the executive vice president and academic dean at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Riverdale, New York – grew up in Summit. She has local connections to spare – her father, William Horn, rabbi emeritus at the Summit Jewish Community Center; her brother-in-law, Randall Mark, is rabbi of Shomrei Torah in Wayne; and her sister, Dassy Mark, is a regional youth director for USY.
Ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1988, Prouser has served as the Daniel Jeremy Silver Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Jewish Studies and is a certified mesader gittin, scribe and adjudicator of religious divorce. He said the Franklin Lakes congregation has “somewhere over 100 households, but I look forward to shaking up those statistics.”
He pointed out that the congregation – founded in 1906 in Paterson – has a long history, although it has been in Franklin Lakes for just a few years.
“It has a proud history and a bright future,” he said.
His new duties, he said, are “extensive.” They will include “the full range of rabbinic endeavors, conducting services, adult education, community programs, outreach, and pastoral work. I look forward to the congregation becoming more of a full-time aspect of people’s lives educationally, socially, and religiously.”
The synagogue, Prouser said, is “both traditional Conservative and egalitarian. We are pursuing that challenge of being both – modern and relevant and accessible and egalitarian – while being true to Jewish tradition.”
His biggest goal, he said, is to increase children’s programming “and to grow that demographic within the community.
“I want to bring in more families with younger children,” he said, noting that such families now do not constitute a high percentage of the synagogue’s membership. He pointed out that the synagogue participates with other area congregations in a regional Hebrew school.
“Kids bring so much sound and fury, life and energy” to a congregation, he said. “I would like to see us do more in-house efforts.”
While the synagogue faces the challenge of growing its membership, “we have a level of participation in activities and services that is outstanding for our numbers,” Prouser said. “But it is important for us to … share what we have with new people, because a congregation needs a critical mass.” Otherwise, “the responsibilities of leadership fall on the same people. It’s tough for them.”
The rabbi described the synagogue as a “warm, accepting, and open place that takes pride in its history and traditions.” In addition, he said, it has the appeal of being “a beautiful place. The atmosphere is physically conducive to prayer and reflection. Overlooking the Franklin Lakes nature preserve and reservoir, it’s difficult not to be open to religious inspiration.”
Prouser – the father of three children, who are 26, 24, and 20 years old – said his predecessor, Rabbi Joshua Cohen, has returned to Israel, after ensuring “a cordial and productive transition.”
While the duties of his new job will more than keep him occupied, he said, he spends some of his extra time working with the Boy Scouts of America as a chaplain for Jewish members at national jamborees.
“I conduct services there for the 1,000 Jews,” he said, adding that the event draws some 50,000 participants. The Boy Scouts were “a big part of my youth.” When he was invited by the organization to participate as an adult, he realized that “It would be wonderful working with Jews in that tremendously diverse context.”
The rabbi is the author of Noble Soul: The Life and Legend of the Vilna Ger Tzedek, Count Walenty Potocki (Gorgias Press) and was a contributing writer for the Etz Hayim Study Companion published by JPS. He also co-authored Koach Ha-Berakhah: A Guide to Birkat Ha-Chammah, the Blessing of the Sun, published by the Rabbinical Assembly, and has written many articles on biblical translation, Jewish law, and the Conservative movement.
He was a member of the beit din, or religious court, that supervised the conversion of the Abayudaya community of Uganda and of the Conservative movement’s Joint Bet Din.