Jewish life is all about relationships for Rabbi Moshe Rudin, who after seven years at Temple Hatikvah in Flanders took the helm of Adath Shalom in Morris Plains on July 1.
The former Jewish educator and day school principal said his philosophy is the same whether he approaches his role as a teacher or a rabbi, and whether he is with a small group of young people or a larger, multi-generational congregation.
“You need to establish intimate connections, like on a kibbutz, where it’s community with a capital C,” he said. “The environment has to breed connection. Let’s hang out together, get to know each other, stand together, go to each other’s simhas,” he said.
Rudin established those connections locally through the former Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union (now Golda Och Academy), serving as an educator at its West Orange campus and later as principal of the SSDS lower school in Cranford, which closed in 2008. He became religious leader of Temple Hatikvah while still a student rabbi, having served as High Holy Days cantorial soloist there since 2003.
Adath Shalom, a Conservative congregation, conducted its rabbinical search among candidates ordained by the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, as well as through the nondenominational Academy of Jewish Religion in the Bronx — where Rudin was ordained three years ago — and Hebrew College near Boston.
Rudin, 53, said he liked the intimacy of the small school and small congregation — but, as a second-career rabbi, he needed to grow and “explore what’s out there.”
Adath Shalom, just a short drive east of the 85-family Temple Hatikvah, is significantly larger, at 350 families. Rudin said he looks forward to the extra support that comes from a larger congregation.
“He brings a lot to the table — he has a lot to offer,” said Adath Shalom president Michael Stepak.
The congregation, which has gone without a rabbi for a year since the departure of Rabbi Mark Biller, sees pastoral care as Rudin’s top priority. Indeed, Rudin led a shiva minyan on his first day with the congregation.
But Adath Shalom is also looking for an inspiring spiritual presence on the bima, and a religious leader “who will be important in the lives of our kids,” said Stepak. They want someone who will engage post-b’nei mitzva teens and a team player, he added; and it doesn’t hurt that Rudin knows the area.
“It means he knows how to get around, where things are, and who to reach out to in the larger community,” said Stepak. “It means he didn’t get lost on that first day finding the shiva in Randolph.”
‘Rav in Israel’
On a recent sunny Monday morning, Rudin’s second at the synagogue, a visitor found him at the congregation’s summer camp, playing his guitar for the preschoolers and singing about a moose.
“You have to sing what they know,” he explained.
He often reaches congregants through music, he said; in fact, while other new rabbis take a careful wait-and-see approach to most changes, Rudin invited adult musicians to play with him at his first Friday night service with the congregation.
The congregants seem to appreciate his approach to new ideas. “We want him to do it, try it, and not talk about it forever,” said Stepak.
Rudin lives in West Orange with his wife, Joyce, their daughter Sophie, and his son Yonatan from a previous marriage. His daughter Shimrit, who grew up in Israel, is now serving in the Israel Defense Forces outside of Be’er Sheva.
Rudin said he sees a rabbi’s role as extending beyond his own congregation or community. That was reinforced at his ordination by his mentors, including Rabbi David Greenstein of Shomrei Emunah in Montclair. “They didn’t say, ‘You are the rabbi of such-and-such a congregation or denomination.’ They said, ‘You are a rav in Israel,’” Rudin recalled.
With that in mind, he said, he looks forward to continuing to work with his peers throughout Morris County and ticked them all off by name. “I want to make synagogue life more prominent,” he said. He suggested that the more Jews that are members of synagogues, the more likely other Jews are to join as well.
“We need to stop being afraid and start thinking of our mission as serving am Yisrael, however we can help,” he said.