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Our new local rabbis

Coming home to Bergen County

This high holiday season, Rabbi Zev Goldberg will have both a spiritual and a physical journey.

Now assistant rabbi of Young Israel of Century City in Los Angeles, the young rabbi will conduct services there for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, taking up his position in Fort Lee just in time for Sukkot.

Rabbi Goldberg and his wife, the former Michal Safier, both grew up in Teaneck.

A graduate of Yavneh Academy and the Torah Academy of Bergen County, he received his smicha from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and his bachelor’s degree in economics from Yeshiva College.

His parents, Eli and Helen Goldberg, are members of the Young Israel of Teaneck; his wife’s parents, Steve and Priva Safier, belong to the town’s B’nai Yeshurun.

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Rabbi Noah Fabricant and his wife, Ali Harwin, hold their baby, Lorry. Noah Fabricant

Returning to Bergen County to head the Young Israel of Fort Lee is “a wonderful way to come home and give back to the broader community in which we were brought up,” Rabbi Goldberg said. Now, however, he and his wife bring two new Goldbergs with them: 5-year-old Meira and 2-year-old Yakir.

The couple will do most of their moving during September, while living with Michal’s family. The new year promises to be busy. In addition to serving his congregation, Rabbi Goldberg will teach part time at Bruriah High School in Elizabeth. Michal, who received her Ph.D. from Ferkauf, Yeshiva University’s graduate school of psychology, will work for Bikur Cholim in Monsey.

Rabbi Goldberg describes his California synagogue as “a wonderful congregation of 500 families. I can’t say enough about [senior rabbi] Elazar Muskin. He was an incredible mentor.”

Rabbi Muskin’s influence on the Goldberg family was felt in other ways as well.

“Two years into the job, my brother met his daughter and now they’re married,” he said.

While the West Coast congregation had a more diverse population than its eastern counterpart, “it’s hard to compare the two,” Rabbi Goldberg said, adding that he has been “taken by the warmth and vibrancy of the Fort Lee community.”

“I’ll be excited to grow the congregation,” he said. “Rabbi Winkler did a wonderful job of growing it from a handful to more than 120 members. Everyone is excited about its future potential.

“It has so much to offer,” he added, citing its close proximity to Teaneck and Englewood. “It’s a jewel yet to be discovered.”

Rabbi Goldberg said he is particularly excited about the opportunity to engage in “relationship-building, connecting with congregants and becoming part of their family.”

He also enjoys teaching and has perceived a thirst for more classes among the membership.

“There are a lot of retirees, and there’s a real excitement for more classes,” he said. “I’ll be meeting with the adult education committee to put together a robust program with a whole array of opportunities to be inspired.”

Rabbi Goldberg said he would like to see the younger population of the congregation grow, joking that he is bringing in two more children. While he is not yet sure how he will reach out to the community, he is considering some programs he helped implement in Los Angeles.

“We had a really interesting program guide filled with a host of speakers, thinkers, rabbis, politicians, all sorts of people, who could speak to a broad range of interests,” he said, noting that “every speaker speaks to a different congregant.

“People won’t all be pulled in the same entrance way. For some, it will be prayer; for some, lectures. I feel passionate about building a synagogue with different portals. It makes congregants feel like part of a family. It breeds an organic growth.”

Rabbi Goldberg said that with new technology, “we can access so many different ways of learning, of perspectives. People are being exposed to all kinds of influences.” To have an impact, “the synagogue has to adapt, keep up with the times.”

Rabbi Goldberg’s goal, however, is not technical but spiritual.

“I’m looking to inspire people, to help them appreciate the beauty of our religion,” he said. “The drive to expose more people to the beauty of our heritage, to the Torah, is at the core of why I do what I do. I get really passionate when it comes to teaching… I feel a passion and excitement about religion.”

His target audience is large.

“There are lots of people in Fort Lee,” he said. “I want to make it the place to be.”

He is not worried because the majority of these people are not yet observant.

“We have to think creatively about a way to bring people through our doors,” he said. “There are a growing number of empty-nesters interested in downsizing and moving to high-end condos here. That’s a major source of growth.”

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