As 5768 arrives, several new rabbis and cantors have been arriving at local bimahs.
The Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel is Rabbi Ronald Roth’s third pulpit. He previously spent ” years at West End Synagogue in Nashville, following seven years as religious leader of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor, N.J.
"It’s a very different situation when you’re in a place like Nashville with over 8 million people and only 4,000 Jews," he said of the transition back to New Jersey.
While in East Windsor, children often left town after they grew up, Roth said he is "pleasantly surprised to see a number of multigenerational families [in Fair Lawn]. Children who grew up here come back."
"There’s great potential here," he said, "We have an opportunity now to expand our programs and services [and] to reach out to people who are not involved by offering different types of services, adult education, and family programming."
Roth moved to Fair Lawn with his wife Rhonda. The couple have a ‘5-year-old son, Gabriel, who lives in Washington, D.C., and a ‘0-year-old daughter, Deena, who is still in Nashville.
Roth said his reception has been extremely warm at the shul.
"The natives are friendly," he said. "There is a great deal of positive energy."
Jarah Greenfield is beginning her fourth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia and has taken the role of part-time rabbi at the Reconstructionist Synagogue of Maywood. She will be at the shul on alternate weekends twice a month.
She previously served as a part-time rabbi for one year at a synagogue in Hastings, N.Y., but said Maywood offers a "very different atmosphere."
"Within Reconstructionism you’ll find a real diversity of tefillah practices and goals because the community is so central in the decision-making process," she said.
"I’m interested in taking the role of ‘rabbi as teacher’ seriously and being a resource to congregants, not only for life-cycle events and pastoral care but also as a teacher," she said.
Greenfield will lead the congregation in its High Holy Day observance and once the calendar returns to a regular schedule, she will teach b’nai mitzvah classes.
Before entering rabbinical school, Greenfield worked as the assistant principal at B’nai Jeshurun Hebrew School in New York and in an administration position at a congregational Hebrew school in California. She has also spent time studying Talmud at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education in New York.
Greenfield is actively involved with Rabbis for Human Rights North America. She was part of the committee that created the "Honor the Image of God: Stop Torture Now" campaign, and she help organize the group’s participation in the spring ‘006 protest in Washington against the genocide in Darfur.
Cantor Leon Sher took up his position at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes in July, but he’s no stranger there. A resident of Livingston for ‘7 years, he previously served as cantor at the Monroe Temple of Liberal Judaism in Monroe, N.Y.; but his wider involvement with Jewish music brought him to Barnert several times to work with its previous cantors.
Sher has been composing and performing music since he was in his teens, and his songs such as "Heal Us Now" and "Makom Shelibi Oheiv" ("The Place My Heart Holds Dear") are sung throughout the country in Reform congregations.
He has also served as a music director and song leader at Union for Reform Judaism camps, as well as at an annual conference for Jewish song leaders.
"There’s some very creative and great stuff going on," he said of Barnert. "It’s a happening place."
Sher hopes to realize his own spiritual fulfillment and to share that fulfillment with the congregation. His love of choirs will ensure the continuation of the shul’s volunteer and junior choirs, and he plans to create a Bergen County chapter of Hazamir: The International High School Jewish Choir, which has performed at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Music Hall, and the North American Jewish Choral Festival.
"It’s very exciting and fulfilling," he said. "It’s a wonderful thing for the high school kids."
HaZamir will hold its first rehearsal Sept. 30, with youngsters coming from all over North Jersey, as well as Monroe. Sher expects more than ‘0 students at the rehearsal, with numbers reaching above 30 in the coming months.
Sher spoke to the Standard on Monday as he was preparing for the High Holy Days. He looks forward to working with Barnert’s Rabbi Elyse Frishman, whom he describes as "a very intense and sensitive and creative rabbi."
"If Selichot is any indication, people will enjoy it and be spiritually uplifted," he said. "There will be a lot of good celebrating and good soul searching."
Sher and his wife Beth, an attorney in Essex County, have been active members of Beged Kefet, a singing group that donates all proceeds from recordings and performances to Myriam’s Dream Inc., a charity that aides the elderly and disabled. The couple has two daughters, both attending Northwestern University.
After graduating from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner spent eight years working at JTS, with four years also spent leading the secondary High Holy Day service at Temple Emanu-El of Closter. After 13 years of living in Manhattan, Kirschner and his wife Dori moved to Closter this summer with their 3-year-old daughter and newborn son so that the rabbi could become Emanu-El’s full-time rabbi.
"It’s a well-established synagogue with fantastic leadership that’s committed not only to the synagogue and its success and growth but the success and growth of the community," he said earlier this week.
Kirshner would like to see the shul take a greater role in conjunction with the area’s Jewish organizations, particularly UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. Making the synagogue part of a network of Jewish organizations is one of his main goals.
"We hope to make [the] synagogue the heart of the Jewish community," he said.
To help make Emanu-El more of a community center, he suggested holding study sessions, basketball games, and other youth programs after Shabbat services so that children will stay around longer. He also looks forward to bringing in high-quality speakers.
"The synagogue can’t only be a place of prayer," he said. "It should be a place of community."
Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut, new hazzan of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, said her love of music began with cello lessons when she was 8 years old, followed by voice lessons several years later. Although she graduated from Swarthmore with a degree in biological chemistry, she returned to music soon after, hoping to start a career in opera.
She landed leading roles in several musical theater productions but after some conversations with the cantor of her synagogue, decided to pursue a job as a soloist at a small congregation in Long Island. After five years at that shul, she applied to Hebrew Union College.
Before coming to Beth Or on July 1, she was the cantor at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, where she "had wonderful, wonderful opportunities to learn and train with Rabbi [Elyse] Frishman."
She had known Beth Or’s previous cantor, Tracey Scher, since cantorial school, and when Scher left, Lambert-Hayut decided to "see if I could take what I learned in school and in the field and apply it to a community looking to expand as well."
Beth Or already had a volunteer choir in place, which Lambert-Hayut would like to grow into a multi-generational group with teenagers alongside the longstanding members. She also wants to increase the role of the synagogue’s junior choir in a monthly service. As for the shul’s professional worship band, Lambert-Hayut sees great potential for the professional musicians in the band to become role models if the band is opened up to amateurs, as well.
Lambert-Hayut lives in Tenafly with her husband Avishay and their two children, who, Lambert-Hayut said, "like being the cantor’s kids."
While at Beth Or, Lambert-Hayut wants to make herself available to the congregation as somebody they can turn to for advice or help "so they have yet another person they can look to as a Jewish role model," she said. "We can’t have enough good role models for our children and for our parents."