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History leads temple’s new rabbi back to NJ
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History leads temple’s new rabbi back to NJ

Rabbi Michelle Pearlman
Rabbi Michelle Pearlman

Rabbi Michelle Pearlman said she is looking forward to taking over a “historical” pulpit when she becomes religious leader at the Monmouth Reform Temple on July 1.

Preceding her at the Tinton Falls synagogue is the current rabbi, Jonathan Roos, who is leaving after four years to accept a position at Temple Sinai in Washington, DC, and his predecessor, Rabbi Sally Priesand, America’s first ordained female rabbi, who served there 25 years.

“I met a lot of great people when I visited the congregation,” said Pearlman in a phone interview from her current synagogue, Temple Shalom of Newton, in Massachusetts. “The warmth of the membership is wonderful.

“It’s always great to be in a synagogue that has such a love for its rabbis.”

Pearlman is no stranger to the state. As a student at Hebrew Union College in New York, one of her pulpits was at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick.

Pearlman’s first job after graduation was as director of youth and informal education for the NJ Council of the Union for Reform Judaism, and as the project coordinator in the URJ’s National Department of Outreach and Synagogue Community.

“I’m very excited about coming back to New Jersey,” said the former Hoboken resident. “I am very interested in the environment and there is so much to do outdoors, especially in the summertime, which is a real gift.”

Myra Ostroff of Old Bridge, a member of the synagogue’s pulpit committee, said members felt Pearlman had the combination of qualities they were looking for.

“She had a youth background and did an internship in our region in outreach and membership,” said Ostroff. “She had those warm qualities we were looking for. Her background in the rabbinate was really exceptional, and we felt she was a good fit for us.”

Pearlman is a trained classical singer who has performed with the Santa Fe and Palm Beach operas. It was through music that Pearlman found her two great loves.

As a cantorial soloist and music director at Congregation Kol Ami in Chicago, she found a mentor in its rabbi, Steven Denker.

During her five years there she also discovered a deep love of Judaism. Denker encouraged her to enter the rabbinate.

It was also through Denker that the Southfield, Mich., native met her husband, Andrew Denker — the rabbi’s cousin. The couple has two daughters, Madeline, six, and Noa, two.

Pearlman graduated from HUC in 2005.

Her most unusual pulpit experience was serving twice as visiting rabbi at Beit Warszawa, a liberal congregation in Warsaw, Poland.

At the 800-family Temple Shalom, she worked closely with the social action program and created an environmental action group. “We created a whole website” — greensimchaguide.org — “to help people ‘green’ their simhas,” said Pearlman.

Pearlman said she intends to bring the same enthusiasm to her new pulpit that she has enjoyed in her current one. She has “loved” her job in Newton, “because it ran the whole gamut,” she said. “There were elderly people and young people to bring the joy and relevance of Judaism to a whole new generation. I think the center of my rabbinate has always been outreach and to bring as many as possible to Judaism.”

Pearlman said she was interested in making Monmouth Reform Temple “as warm and welcoming as possible.”

“I really want to focus on getting members of the community more engaged in the life of the synagogue, including…the unaffiliated,” she said.

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