Rabbi Peter Berg of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township will head south next summer to become the senior rabbi at Atlanta’s The Temple Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, one of the largest Reform congregations in the country.
Leaders at The Temple, as it is commonly called, had wanted Berg to start immediately; he will instead join them July 1, in order to help Beth Or with the transition. The 36-year-old Berg had been contracted for two more years at Beth Or but the three parties reached an agreement allowing Berg to leave his position here one year early.
"I’m staying an additional year because I love Temple Beth Or and want it to do well," Berg said. "I’m completely committed to Beth Or next year."
Founded in 1867, The Temple is the oldest and largest shul in Atlanta, with approximately 1,430 member-families. It began as an Orthodox shul 140 years ago, and during its lifetime has had only three senior rabbis, a list Berg said he is honored to join.
Rabbi David Marx served from 1895 to 1946, Rabbi Jacob Rothschild from 1946 to 1973, and Rabbi Alvin Sugarman from 1974 to ‘004. After Sugarman retired, The Temple brought in Rabbi Jeff Salkin from New York, but he announced last summer that he would not renew his contract. His last week was in June and Rabbi Don Berlin, who served as a senior rabbi in Baltimore for almost 30 years, will become The Temple’s interim rabbi in August, until Berg takes over next summer.
The Temple’s board began its search last July and voted June ‘1 to hire Berg from among more than 30 candidates.
"It’s a huge opportunity," he said, "for me and my family," which includes his wife, Karen, and 3-year-old son Matan. "Nonetheless, I’ll miss Temple Beth Or very much and it’ll always be a part of my heart."
Jeff Katz, Beth Or’s president, said the congregation’s feelings are bittersweet.
"We are absolutely thrilled for him personally and professionally," Katz said. "And, concurrently, he will be missed. He’s an exceptional rabbi."
Berg has been with Beth Or for five years, and in that time the synagogue has gone through what Katz called "dramatic growth" and reached almost 450 member-families.
"He’s really helped us ask a lot of the right questions," Katz said. "In that regard, we, as a congregation, got much stronger and are able to continue to grow for the future."
Beth Or recently completed a strategic plan with UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and will finish a capital campaign next year. The congregation will continue to grow, Katz predicted, and Berg said he would do what he can in the coming year to help, including aiding a search committee for his successor.
"Like any parent who’s proud of a successful relative or child, we wish him well," Katz said.
"They’ve been wonderful for me," Berg said of the Washington Township shul. "Temple Beth Or means house of light. It’s a house of light and inspiration for the entire Pascack Valley community."