After nearly one year on the job, Jeffrey Salkin will leave as director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office to become the rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Bayonne.
On July 1 he will succeed Rabbi Gordon Gladstone, who is retiring from the Reform congregation, which he has led since 1984. “I enjoyed my work at the ADL. Ultimately this was a decision to return to the pulpit, where I can help shape and influence the spiritual direction of a community,” Salkin told NJ Jewish News in an April 15 phone interview.
Salkin, a Reform rabbi and author of various books on Jewish practice, began working at the ADL on July 16, 2012. Prior to joining the ADL he served as religious leader at synagogues in Port Washington, NY; Atlanta; and most recently in Columbus, Ga.
“I had not been looking for a new job, but all of a sudden this opportunity presented itself,” said Salkin. “I will also have the opportunity to pursue my writing and my speaking.”
At the ADL, Salkin succeeded Etzion Neuer, who left in 2011 to become director of community service and policy for the ADL’s New York Region.
“My tenure will be remembered for several things,” said Salkin. “First, we revived a region that had been somewhat lethargic. Second, we attracted a number of younger leaders — people in their 30s and 40s. Third, we created new vistas in interreligious dialogue — specifically with the Sikh community.” In September 2012, state ADL leaders met with local, national, and international Sikh leaders after a white supremacist murdered six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.
“We helped teach them about security, hate crime legislation, and identity formation,” Salkin added. “We also responded to hate crimes here in New Jersey and helped block the renaming of a city park in Clifton” that was intended to honor Chester Grabowski, a Polish-American publisher who had published anti-Semitic writings in his newspaper, the Post Eagle.
Temple Beth Am, in the working-class city of Bayonne, has around 80 households, largely senior citizens, according to Salkin. His mission there “is to teach and to inspire,” he said. “While we certainly hope younger Jewish families will move to Bayonne, my mission is to ennoble and enable the community to continue functioning in as creative a way as possible.”
Salkin is the author of nine books on a broad range of Jewish topics. His most recent is The Gods are Broken! The Hidden Legacy of Abraham (Jewish Publication Society), which he described as “a radical interpretation of the Jews as an iconoclastic people” (see page 28).
Although he plans to commute to Bayonne from his home in South Orange, Salkin said the drive will pale in comparison to the 12,000 or more miles he logged in the past year covering a territory that runs from the New York state line to the Trenton area. “It has been exhausting work, but it has allowed me to paint with a statewide palette,” he said.
Reflecting on his career, Salkin told NJJN, “I am always delighted and amused to see the continuity between one chapter of my life and the next. The ADL was a spectacular adventure in helping the Jewish people and allowing the Jewish message to permeate the lives of all peoples.”
He said he plans to continue as a consultant with ADL.