Rabbi Scott B. Roland grew up less than a mile from Temple Hatikvah in Flanders. He always knew about the synagogue, and he remembers celebrating becoming a bar mitzva at nearby Temple Shalom in Succasunna on the same day as a classmate at Temple Hatikvah.
“We all played in the street together afterward,” he recalled.
But the first time he stepped into the building was when he came for an interview earlier this year. Apparently, the congregation liked the homegrown boy: Roland, 30, was hired to succeed Rabbi Moshe Rudin, who led the congregation for seven years before assuming the pulpit at the nearby Adath Shalom in Morris Plains.
“There is something really special and powerful about getting to return to my hometown as a rabbi,” Roland said in a recent interview at his new office. “I get to experience my roots from a different perspective — I’m a very different person today from when I left,”
A graduate of Rutgers University, Roland received his rabbinic ordination from the nondenominational Hebrew College in Boston.
On display in his office are photos of his wife Aviva (who grew up in Cranford) and baby daughter Moriya, as well as his varsity letters from Mount Olive High School.
Judaism permeated his childhood home. His parents, NAMES, are past presidents of Temple Shalom, and another photo in his office is one of him in Washington, DC, on Freedom Sunday in 1983 marching on behalf of Soviet Jewry.
“Jews look out for one another,” he explained. “If Jews come together to stand up for something, you’d better decide if you should be there to stand alongside them.”
The idea of solidarity led him to join Rutgers Hillel during the time of the Second Intifada, and he eventually became president of the Hillel board.
By the time he applied to rabbinical school, Roland had become more observant than he had been growing up. Not sure where his journey would lead him, he chose Hebrew College for its pluralistic philosophy. “I didn’t want to know my outcome before I started the process,” he said.
As for finding Temple Hatikvah, he said he couldn’t believe the synagogue was looking for a religious leader just as he was graduating. To top it off, the family dog is named “Tikvah,” a name chosen shortly after they returned from a year of study in Israel.
It was, he said, “bashert.”
Congregation president Sofya Iosiovich said she hoped Roland would help the egalitarian, Conservative synagogue grow from its current membership of 95 families.
“When we looked at his resume, even though he’s so young, he has a lot of experience –— and he’s very youth oriented,” she said. “And there was just something about him that was such a good match for us when he came to try out. We just liked what we saw.”
Roland acknowledged that the synagogue’s physical and virtual spaces “need a little love.” He wants the Hatikvah website to become an active hub and provide a voice for Jews from the area and farther west, where they are a small minority. “We are not a Teaneck or even a Randolph,” he said, calling the area a “frontier” for Jews.
But, he said, its size, is “what’s great about this community.” And though he hopes to help the temple grow, he wants it “to remain a close-knit family. We’ll never be a mega-shul.”
Roland and his wife are in the process of buying a house one block from where he grew up, and on his first trip to ShopRite in Flanders, he was delighted to run into his favorite teacher from elementary school. He has had similar encounters with people at Temple Hatikvah.
“There are people I’ve known my entire life at shul,” he said. “They show me love and respect and are excited about our shared history.
“But they also recognize that now our relationship is on a different path, and they can look at me as their rabbi.”