He may have grown up in California, but Rabbi David Bockman is no stranger to Bergen County; he’s worked in many congregations throughout the area.
Now at Fair Lawn’s Temple Beth Sholom, “I’m both comfortable and excited to still be involved in Jewish life in Bergen County,” Rabbi Bockman said. Given all the friends he’s made over the years, as well as all his rabbinic colleagues, “I feel at home,” he said.
“Moving around has meant I get to meet new people and don’t have to say goodbye,” he added, noting that he still sees people from Pompton Lakes, Park Ridge, and Bergenfield, some of the communities he has served. “I’ve been building up friendships over the years.”
He became a rabbi, Rabbi Bockman said, because “I wanted to know what rabbis knew.” When it came time to graduate from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1986, “I didn’t know what I wanted to be,” he said. “I went to different synagogues and saw that some rabbis were phoning it in.” He disapproved. “The Jewish community deserved someone who really cared.”
Once he was ordained, he served in Kansas City, Maryland, New Orleans, and North Carolina. “Most of the congregations have been on the smaller side, some very small,” he said. “Most of them have been informal. That’s a better match for me. Some of my best stuff is interacting with people.”
He cares about those people who find themselves on the edge of the communal bell curve — singles, for example, or converts — who haven’t found anyone to speak to. Those people benefit the most from his style, he said.
At Beth Sholom, Rabbi Bochman will lead services on Shabbat and holidays, attend minyanim and meetings, “and help to teach people and hopefully give them a sense of connection.” He will continue to teach part time at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange.
Before he moved to Bergen County, Rabbi Bockman taught Jewish history at the University of New Orleans, and over the years, he created adult courses such as Jewish Philosophy in the Musicals of Stephen Sondheim, Oppression & Jewish Thought, and the Nexus of 20th Century Math & Judaism. In addition, he has been instrumental in the North Jersey Board of Rabbis’ annual night of adult Jewish education, “Sweet Tastes of Torah.”
Unlike many of the other congregations Rabbi Bockman has led, Temple Beth Sholom is not egalitarian. It is not his intention to change that. “If they want to change, I will be happy to help,” he said. He sees his role as ministering to the community’s Jewish needs.
“Every Jewish community deserves someone to help them,” he said. “I’m not a political trailblazer.” What he will bring to the congregation, he said, is creativity, compassion, intelligence, and a willingness to listen to people, “helping them at whatever level to move forward and upward.”
“I’ve been a rabbi for a long time, and I’ve been with congregations at all parts of their life cycle,” he continued. “I think the best thing I can do is to give them a shot in the arm, make them feel important, and be with them; open for them pathways to access tradition and guide them in their spirituality.”
Rabbi Bockman lives in Teaneck with his wife, Vicki Hyman, and their 20-year-old son, Theo Hyman-Bockman. “The Theo is for Thelonius Monk,” said Rabbi Bockman, an avid jazz fan. Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer with a unique improvisational style. Rabbi Bockman is a musician, known for playing jazz trumpet and shofar in klezmer, gospel, and jazz groups, including performances at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and House of Blues.
His trumpet playing has been on hold, however, since “the long haul effect” of covid has cramped his style. “I’m trying to get back into it,” he said. “It’s hard to play but I’ve been going to different jam sessions, and each time I can play a bit more.” He hopes that he will be able to blow shofar again this year.