Five rabbis, five perspectives
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Five rabbis, five perspectives

Rabbi David Widzer, Temple Beth El of Northern Valley, Closter

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Rabbi David Widzer

Coming to Closter after 12 years as a religious leader in the Boston area, Rabbi David Widzer describes Temple Beth El as “a vibrant Reform congregation, home to Jewish families of every shape and size across the spectrum.”

Ordained at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 2000, Widzer says he is “excited at the opportunity to be the rabbi of this congregation.

“It has a wonderful history of meaningful worship, beautiful music, and enriching education for children and adults,” he said, paying special tribute to Cantor Rica Timman, the congregation’s longtime chazzan.

“We are at an exciting and challenging time in Jewish history, trying to determine what the Jewish community is and what we want it to be,” Widzer said. “Part of our responsibility as a congregation is to be forward thinking, to understand what it will look like in 10 years.

“We’re putting the pieces in place now. It’s a good bit of work and a little scary, and we don’t know what it will look like. But we do know that the values of Torah and of lifelong Jewish study and learning are our core.”

The rabbi said he wants to use ritual and music “in a meaningful way.” He also pointed out that the congregation has experienced a “good resurgence” of social justice activities over the past few years, with renewed interest among members in these kinds of programs and projects.

“What drew me here was this commitment,” he said. “The overriding sense I got [here] when searching for a new pulpit was a feeling of community and connection expressed through learning, worship, doing, social events, and youth programs.”

He was particularly impressed, he said, by the “connection people had to one another.”

Widzer said he is looking forward to being a presence in the religious school and helping with post-bar and bat mitzvah programs.

“We have a good number who stay involved,” he said. “It’s a particular interest of mine and one I’ve had some success in. I’m looking to continue to enhance the options for teens.”

Those options – whether confirmation, participation in NFTY youth groups, or serving as madrichim, as the Reform movement calls its role models – “are so important to show teens that [religious education] is not just pediatric,” he said.

His desire to encourage teen participation may well be a product of his own experience. According to his synagogue’s website, the rabbi describes himself as “a pure-bred product of the Reform movement.” Not only was he active in his congregation – especially its youth group – but he was a camper, counselor, educator, supervisor, and rabbinic faculty member at Reform Jewish summer camps in Massachusetts, Indiana, Texas, and New York.

Widzer – who is joined in his new community by his wife, Karen, and their two young children – said interim Rabbi Jim Simon “did wonderful work preparing the congregation for a new rabbi.”

“I’m glad to be coming to Bergen County,” he said. “I’m pleased to be part of a community that’s so welcoming and warm.”

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