Hurricane Irene did nothing to reduce the turnout or interfere with the warm welcome afforded Congregation B’nai Israel’s new rabbi the Shabbat of Aug. 26-27. Rabbi Jeff Sultar led services at the Conservative synagogue in Rumson and greeted his new congregants at a kiddush and oneg Shabbat celebrating his arrival.
Sultar will serve as interim rabbi for the year, replacing Rabbi Andrew Bloom, who held the pulpit from 2005 until July of this year, when he moved to Texas to take up a position as senior rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Shalom in Fort Worth.
“It is a wonderful, warm community and we’re off to a strong start,” Sultar told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview on Aug. 30. He will be commuting from the home in Philadelphia that he shares with his wife and 14-year-old daughter, spending most of the week in Rumson serving the 400-family synagogue. “In this age of cell phones and computers, people should be able to reach me as easily as if I was staying in one place,” he said.
Sultar is a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. He was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Pennsylvania in 1996 and served a number of congregations in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, and Connecticut.
“We are thrilled to welcome Rabbi Sultar to our synagogue,” said congregation president Arthur Becker of Shrewsbury. “He is a dynamic, spiritual individual, and we look forward to studying and praying with him. Rabbi Sultar not only has experience guiding congregations through transitional periods, it is obvious that he wants to share his love of Judaism and commitment to social activism with us.”
Sultar’s passions range from global and local environmental issues to meditation practice within Judaism. He has taught courses called “The Earth is the Lord’s: Judaism and Environment” and “Does a Golem Count in a Minyan?” He helped develop and taught in the innovative “Jewish, Alive & American” program in Philadelphia, an intensive year-long course for people rediscovering their Judaism as adults.
As a speaker for the Jewish environmental group Shomrei Adamah, he has given talks throughout the Northeast on the connection between Jewish values and environmental concerns and wrote the opening chapter, “Adam, Adamah, and Adonai: The Relationship Between Humans, Nature, and God in the Bible,” for the 2000 book Ecology & the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature and the Sacred Meet (Jewish Lights) and contributed to Growing Together: Resources, Programs, and Experiences for Jewish Family Education.
In addition to working as a rabbi, author, and lecturer, Sultar is well known for the solo bicycle odyssey he undertook in the late 1980s. He survived the 27-month, 46-state, 16,000-mile journey throughout the United States by bartering work in exchange for food and lodging in over 400 communities. He didn’t intend to at first, he told NJJN, but faced with people’s questions about the trip, he has written a book titled Small Miracles about the spiritual side of that experience. When life settles down a little and he has more time, he said, he plans to find a publisher.