Temple’s alums choose careers as Jewish pros
The 1974 bar mitzva of Bill Robinson, now with the Jewish Education Project.
July 2, 2012
Temple Shalom of Aberdeen has always been a congregation dedicated to the furtherance of Jewish education for all ages.
Our young people are encouraged to take an active part in creating and conducting worship experiences and to become leaders in ToSTY, the temple’s youth group affiliated with the Reform movement’s National Federation of Temple Youth. They are given support to attend Jewish conclaves, Mitzvah Corps gatherings, and Jewish camp, with sponsorships and scholarships provided by congregation funds, sisterhood, and brotherhood.
Some of our youth have been so inspired by their temple experiences that they have chosen careers as Jewish professionals. Our suburban congregation with 305 member families has produced five rabbis, two cantors, and three educators who continue to work for the betterment of the greater Jewish community.
The congregation rejoiced as each of the following individuals embraced the rabbinate and received ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion: Rabbi Laurence Groffman of Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove; Rabbi Brian Beal of Temple Beth Torah in Upper Nyack, NY; Rabbi Laurie Eichenbaum Green of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, NY; and Rabbi Charles Arian of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Norwich, Conn. (in New York); and (at HUC-JIR in Cincinnati) Rabbi Beth Jacowitz-Chottiner of Temple Shalom in Wheeling, WV.
Groffman credits Rabbi Henry Weiner — who served as religious leader at Temple Shalom from 1967 to 1999 — as a major factor in his decision to enter the rabbinate. “I frequently attended services with my parents when I was a child, and his teaching from the pulpit and in the classroom, along with his leading of services, showed me the positive effect a rabbi can have on a congregation.
“Temple Shalom was our family’s home away from home,” Groffman said, “and from that, I came to understand the sense of community and belonging that synagogues can provide.
“That is precisely what I aim to do for my own congregation.”
Jacowitz-Chottiner had a similar experience. “I always felt at home at Temple Shalom and had a great relationship with Rabbi Weiner,” she said. “Through NFTY, I fell in love with Torah and met amazing rabbis who served as wonderful role models. I decided that the rabbinate was a wonderful way to study and teach Torah and serve the world.”
Temple Shalom also provided the inspiration for Cantor Darcie Shapiro Sharlein of Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, Mich., and Cantor Lisa Shapanka Arbisser of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York City. Both are graduates of HUC-JIR’s School of Sacred Music.
“I have always loved Judaism and have particularly connected with Judaism through music and prayer,” said Shapiro Sharlein. “The cantorate is a way to combine my love for Judaism, the arts, and education with my desire to be in a helping profession. I was inspired to become a member of the clergy as a cantor because I want to be able to provide support to members of the community with my presence, my voice, and my words.”
Shapanka Arbisser said that serving as a cantor allows her “to pursue my two passions in life, Judaism and music. Temple Shalom is a wonderful place to grow up. It has provided my family with educational, spiritual, musical, and social experiences in a caring and supportive community.”
Jewish educators have also come out of Temple Shalom. Bill Robinson, who earned his PhD from Rutgers University, is chief strategy officer with the Jewish Education Project. David Weinstein, who received his master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is the director of Young Judaea’s Camp Tel Yehudah. And Elisa Bergenfeld Juros, who received her master’s degree from the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at HUC-JIR Los Angeles, is a Hebrew and Judaic studies teacher at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan. The older members of this select group are in their 50s; the younger ones are in their early 30s. All are married and have children. All are employed in accordance with their training. The Temple Shalom family is proud of their accomplishments as they bring the joy of Judaism to their communities.
Rabbi Laurence Malinger has served the congregation as religious leader since Rabbi Weiner’s retirement, carrying on his legacy.
“Temple Shalom takes great pride in being a congregation that maintains a strong commitment to education, worship, and social justice, three core values that have been instilled in its membership for many generations,” said Malinger. “Being a rabbi is being one who loves to teach — from Torah study and adult education classes to more original venues. Each rabbi brings creative approaches to services through music, story, sermon, and participatory worship.
“Today’s rabbis get to be every kind of professional: teacher, therapist, story teller, actor, public relations person, comedian, social activist, business person, event planner,” Malinger said. “Rabbis get to study and teach Judaism every single day, and we get to try to make a difference in people’s lives, in the greater community, and in the world. What could be better?”
A reunion of Temple Shalom’s Jewish professionals is planned for next spring as part of the congregation’s 50th anniversary celebration. Welcoming them back to their Jewish roots will be a joy for all the congregants.