Temple Beth-El’s Brickman to retire
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Temple Beth-El’s Brickman to retire

Rabbi cites changes in Jersey City's demographics

Rabbi Kenneth Brickman has announced his plans to step down from Jersey City’s Temple Beth-El, after more than 20 years with the congregation, because, he said, the demographics and needs of the community have changed.

Brickman will retire in June, marking 22 years with the 135-year-old Reform synagogue. With 115 members, Temple Beth-El is the largest synagogue in Jersey City, which once was home to a large, thriving Jewish community that mostly moved to the suburbs following World War II. It is now home to four synagogues and a handful of independent minyans.

“The demographics have flipped from when I first arrived, when the congregation was primarily composed of older members,” Brickman told The Jewish Standard last week.

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Rabbi Kenneth Brickman will retire from the pulpit of Temple Beth-El in Jersey City, where he has served for 22 years.

“When I was hired 22 years ago, the congregation and I were a perfect fit,” he said. “I was a perfect match for what the congregation needed at that time. I came to the conclusion that, as the congregation changed, what it needed no longer fit my skill set.”

Now the synagogue’s religious school, which started only in the early 1990s, has about 50 children. There were no bar or bat mitzvahs in the congregation when Brickman arrived, and now the rabbi counts at least six coming up. In the next two months, Brickman will officiate at four bat mitzvahs and four weddings.

“When I first came, a year would go by without me having (to perform) a wedding in the community,” he said.

Brickman pointed to an increasing number of young families and empty-nesters in the congregation, indicative of the changing demographics of Jersey City, which has typically attracted younger professionals before they settle down in the suburbs.

“The city as a whole is undergoing a revival, especially in the downtown neighborhoods, which has resulted in a change in the congregation,” the rabbi said. “The downtown waterfront has experienced a tremendous revival, and our congregation is benefiting from that in new members, volunteers, and revitalization.”

Brickman credited an influx of empty-nesters moving out of the suburbs with revitalizing area Jewish life. These people, he said, had been involved with running their suburban synagogues and want to create Jewish connections in their new surroundings.

“I was the rabbi hired by the previous generation, 22 years ago,” he said. “The new members of the congregation, the majority of the membership, should be served by the rabbi of their choosing.”

Brickman hopes to remain active with Beth-El as rabbi emeritus, but he would like to see somebody else step up to take on the day-to-day leadership.

“My goal is not to walk away and leave them but to continue to be part of the community,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the congregation to continue its growth and development under the leadership of somebody with the skills to enhance the process.”

Brickman came to Beth-El on July 1, 1989. Before that, he spent two years as associate rabbi at Temple Israel of New Rochelle, N.Y., following five years as assistant rabbi in Largemont, N.Y.

“Rabbi Brickman has been a tremendous asset to Temple Beth-El,” said the synagogue’s president, Irwin Rosen. “Our congregation has grown in all ways under his leadership. We will always be grateful to him.”

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