|Many of the 39 new rabbis from New Jersey, part of the contingent of 205 men receiving ordination at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Eichanan Theological Seminary.|
North Jersey natives made up a large contingent of the record 205 men receiving rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in Manhattan on March 23. The Chag HaSemikhah Convocation, held every four years, bestowed Orthodox rabbinic credentials on students from the classes of 2011 to 2014.
The new rabbis hail from five continents and more than 50 North American cities. While most will remain engaged in fulltime Torah study or Jewish education, the pulpit, outreach, or nonprofit work, many will pursue careers in professions including medicine and law.
Rabbi Yair Manas, who grew up Teaneck and is almost 29, said he went to RIETS for the opportunity to learn under “tremendous” Torah scholars. He also has a degree from Brooklyn Law School.
“When I entered RIETS, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work as a rabbi, and I still don’t know if I want to work as a rabbi,” said Rabbi Manas, a graduate of Yavneh Academy and Torah Academy of Bergen County. “I was in the YU-Torah MiTzion Kollel in Toronto for 2 1/2 years, and got experience both in the pulpit and in the educational field.”
He and his wife and two daughters made aliyah on March 25 and are living in Ma’aleh Adumim outside Jerusalem. “I currently work as a freelance attorney, and have started a website selling tablecloths (www.ManasTablecloths.com),” he wrote in an email.
According to a March 24 article by Uriel Heilman for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, most rabbinic positions in Orthodox synagogues are outside metropolitan New York. The article says that only one-quarter of the newly minted RIETS rabbis will find pulpits, “though 80 percent are involved in some kind of religious or Jewish communal work. The remaining 20 percent go to secular trades – like accounting, law and medicine.” Furthermore, Mr. Heilman writes, many new pulpit rabbis also work as teachers or hospital chaplains because congregations often cannot afford a full-time rabbi.
The employment status of some of the local sons reflects this reality. Rabbi Eitan Bendavid, raised in Teaneck, teaches at SAR High School in Riverdale, N.Y., and is a member of the clergy team at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan. Teaneck native Rabbi Etan Ehrenfeld is teaching at the Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago and is assistant rabbi at Kehilat Chovevei Tzion in Skokie.
Rabbi Tsvi Selengut, who grew up in Teaneck, is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ohab Zedek of Belle Harbor, N.Y., and teaches at DRS High School in Woodmere.
Rabbi Selengut, 28, said that his calling already was clear to him when he was in high school at Torah Academy of Bergen County. “I look for meaning in my own life and in the world, and people in general are looking for meaning and for answers to bigger questions, and the rabbanaut – and especially the pulpit – are where you can a really affect people and bring meaning to their lives.” He and his wife have a 10-month-old son.
He believes that the advent of handheld technology has brought new challenges to the rabbinate. “There is a much higher level of stress, and people are under more pressure and working more hours than when I was growing up,” he observed. “All of this affects people of all ages on a daily level, and I try to direct my [sermons] and high-school classes to that mindset.”
Other new rabbis are full-time educators. Rabbi Akiva Fleischmann, also from Teaneck, is teaching middle school grades at Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood, Ohio. Rabbi Ben Krinsky teaches at his alma mater, Yavneh Academy in Paramus, while Rabbi David Schlusselberg is an instructor of Talmud, Bible, and Judaica electives at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston.
Rabbi Krinsky, 26, spent his college Friday mornings at his alma mater, TABC, learning Torah with the high school students. He recalls those sessions as the highlight of his week. “Not only did I have a good time, but a lot of the kids did as well, so I decided that education was something that I wanted to do for a living. I know that this is probably clichÃ©, but when a student’s eyes light up when they understand what you’re teaching, that is one of the best feelings.” One of his rabbinic role models is TABC’s Rabbi Ezra Wiener, a teacher and religious life guidance counselor at the school, with whom he remains in touch.
Rabbi Schlusselberg, a graduate of the Moriah and Frisch schools, traces his desire to be a rabbi and educator to his post-high-school year in 2006 at Yeshivat Reishit in Israel.
“It was partly because of my love of Torah and partly because of my love for teaching and helping kids,” said Rabbi Schlusselberg, who is in his twelfth year leading Shabbat youth groups at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck. While at RIETS, he earned a master’s degree at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. Kushner was the nearest Jewish school hiring when he was ready to begin working, he said, and he feels fortunate to have won the position.
The other Bergen and Passaic county natives who were ordained on Sunday include Rafael Abraham, Jeremy Baran, Yitzchak Ehrenberg, Daniel Fridman, Elie Friedman, Noah Gardenswartz, Noah Goldberg, Zev Goldberg, Benjy Leibowitz, Yakir Schechter, Nachum Danny Shulman, and Avraham Yablok of Teaneck; Aaron Fleksher, Elisha Friedman, and Shlomo Weissmann of Passaic; Elli Bloom and Yechiel Shaffer of Fair Lawn; Motti Neuburger and Dovid Preil of Bergenfield; Mordechai (Evan) Gershon of Englewood, and David New of New Milford.