The North Jersey Board of Rabbis reached into its past last week when it elected Rabbi Neal Borovitz of Temple Sholom in River Edge to become its next president.
Borovitz, who was the president of the board of rabbis of local non-Orthodox shuls 13 years ago, will take over from Rabbi Joshua Finkelstein of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey in Franklin Lakes on July 1.
During Finkelstein’s two year stint as president, the board, which meets once a month either at the River Edge offices of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey or at a local synagogue, tackled several pressing issues, including how to provide the area’s hospitals and nursing homes with better chaplaincy services and the rising cost of burial at local Jewish cemeteries, according to Finkelstein. It also started work on establishing a Jewish healing network, he said.
"Rabbi Finkelstein did a marvelous job at revitalizing our organization," said Borovitz. "It will be my job and that of my executive team to build on that."
Borovitz, who joined the board of rabbis when he took the pulpit at Temple Sholom 18 years ago, said that the topography of the non-Orthodox synagogues has changed drastically since he first served as president, as they saw a wave of retirement from the area’s previous generation of rabbis, especially over the past five years.
One of the area’s longest-tenured rabbis, Borovitz said that he sees it as his job to help younger and new rabbis find their places in the broader community.
"The board of rabbis should be both a support group and a place of spiritual and professional enrichment for the rabbis, and a roundtable around which we can talk about communal issues," he said.
During his first stint as president, the board of rabbis and the local federation helped found the Interfaith Brotherhood-Sisterhood Committee of Bergen County and started the Jewish Learning Project, a cooperative adult education program at the YJCC in Washington Township, which offers classes from a number of Reform and Conservative rabbis.
This year, for the first time, an Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Jeffrey Fox of Englewood’s Kehilat Kesher, gave learning project classes.
Borovitz said that he would like to see his board of rabbis further extend its collective hand to the area’s Orthodox rabbinical board, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.
Though the two boards have worked on a couple of projects together, such as limiting the cost of Jewish burial, relations between them have been generally cool.
"One of my ongoing issues is how do we have a pluralistic but united Jewish community," said Borovitz. "It is no secret that it is very rare for Orthodox rabbis to sit down with Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist rabbis, and there are many ways that we can work on that that can be very constructive."
The local federation, he said, has provided forums for such dialogue in recent years, such as through its Synagogue Leadership Initiative and its Rabbinic Liaison Committee, but he feels more can be done.
"As a Jew, I have to be an optimist," he said. And we are trying to figure out how we can work together for the betterment of the broader Jewish community and how we can be more supportive of each other and better deliver services to every Jew in our community."