Rabbi Jay Weinstein came to Young Israel of East Brunswick six years ago aiming to grow the synagogue and strengthen outreach to the community.
Under his leadership, the 220-family synagogue attracted 25 new families within a two-year period, instituted programs and activities for those with special needs, and formed closer bonds with both the Jewish and broader communities.
With all this success under his belt, Weinstein said “shalom” to his Orthodox congregation June 25 as he and his wife, Sharon, and their four young children, ages one to nine, make aliya on July 6.
Rabbi Effy Unterman will take over the pulpit on Aug. 1.
Living in Israel “has always been in the back of our minds for both my wife and me,” said Weinstein in a phone interview with NJJN. “Both of us grew up in Zionistic homes. We both have family in Israel and now is the time for our family to make the transition.”
The Weinsteins will make their new home in Ma’ale Adumim — a suburb of Jerusalem, about four miles away — which, he said, is home to many former Americans. Although he is unsure of what he will do professionally, Weinstein said he is seriously considering seeking a position in the nonprofit field.
“I hope to find a position to help the Jewish people and State of Israel and create more bridges between the United States and Israel,” said Weinstein. “The model is very different in Israel than America. They don’t have their synagogues set up like here.”
Sharon Weinstein is a Judaic studies and math teacher at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston; she will look to continue her teaching career in Israel.
The 34-year-old Weinstein grew up in North Miami Beach and came to East Brunswick after serving as assistant rabbi at Congregation Shaare Tefilla in Dallas, where he also served as the program coordinator for the Community Kollel of Dallas.
The objective to be part of a larger, inclusive community became a hallmark of Weinstein’s tenure in central New Jersey. He is the current president of the Rabbinic Association in the Heart of NJ and a board member of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ.
He also has established ties beyond the Jewish community. “I’ve been involved in political advocacy on the local, state, and federal level,” said Weinstein. “My relationship with legislators at all these levels has allowed me to advocate for the Jewish community and State of Israel.”
The longtime Tri-Synagogue Alliance of East Brunswick — which includes the Conservative East Brunswick Jewish Center and Reform Temple B’nai Shalom — at Weinstein’s urging has become more active since he came to the community, most recently marching together for the first time behind an alliance banner in the June 5 Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City.
“I am proud of putting Young Israel at the center of the community, where we have been able to engage with many types of people,” said Weinstein. “We have attracted young couples to move to our community to continue the growth of our shul.
“But, I am most proud of the bridges we’ve been able to build between our shul and many different organizations and institutions throughout our community.”
Weinstein has served for six years as a police chaplain — including as head chaplain — for East Brunswick and was awarded the East Brunswick Township Community Service Award two years ago.
As a youth, Weinstein served as a volunteer with the special-needs community, developing “a passion” to help challenged individuals. He earned a master’s degree in special education from Columbia University and was a teacher of children with special needs at both public and day schools in New York.
A former employee of Yachad, an organization of the Orthodox Union that works with individuals with special needs from all streams of the Jewish community, Weinstein made a connection between the organization and federation, which have partnered on projects.
“Serving the special-needs population within our community is an important goal I think Jews of all backgrounds can collaborate on together,” Weinstein told NJJN.
It is with “mixed emotions” that he prepares to leave his synagogue and community.
“We’ve had a wonderful six years in East Brunswick,” said Weinstein. “It’s been a blessing to serve as rabbi at Young Israel,” he said. “We’ve developed close relationships not only with people in the shul, but also the broader community, and I’ve had the honor of participating in many organizations. It’s hard to leave a place you’re so comfortable in, but we’re excited to continue our journey in Israel. We feel blessed to make aliya and live in the Jewish homeland.”