As rabbi with a doctoral degree in political philosophy, an Israeli-born Jew serving a “traditional” American congregation, Tal Sessler relishes his ability to straddle multiple worlds.
The newly hired rabbi at Freehold Jewish Center-Congregation Agudath Achim said his “main challenge is symptomatic of the challenge that Judaism faces today — how to navigate our Jewish identity as modern people immersed in the modern world.”
Meanwhile, having grown up in Tel Aviv, he sees his role as “a cultural translator of sorts. I have facility with Hebrew as a mother tongue.”
Sessler succeeded the retiring Rabbi Kenneth Greene on July 15.
“I think Rabbi Sessler’s strength is his ability to reach out to the many different age groups and the unaffiliated,” said Lawrence Lubber of Freehold, a cochair of the search committee. “I think he can adapt himself to both children and older people.”
Sessler moved to the United States in 2000, first to work for his doctorate in political philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York, then to attend rabbinical school at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary where he graduated this spring.
A published author, among Sessler’s works are Levinas and Camus: Humanism for the 21st Century and, in Hebrew, Leibowitz and Levinas: Between Judaism and Universalism and Paris and Jerusalem: Poetic Theosophy and Cultural Criticism.
‘Saliency of Judaism’
In his last year of training, Sessler worked on weekends at the Jewish Center of Forest Hills West in Queens.
“Reaching out to unaffiliated Jews and younger families is something I have been doing in the last year,” Sessler said. “I think Jews regardless of their age and life stage are looking for meaning and a key to joining the tradition and becoming part of the community.”
Beyond that, the rabbi said, his “mission is to show the saliency of what Judaism has to say about the most basic questions of what it is to live a meaningful life and be part of a community and how the approaches of the sages and the rabbis that were formulated over thousands of years are perhaps even more relevant in today’s world than ever before.”
Sessler said he also looks forward to “to building meaningful relations with the larger community.”
His ideas please Marvin Krakower, the executive director of the 170-family congregation.
“The rabbi is very nice human being,” Krakower told NJJN. “He will add a lot to the synagogue with his energy, his enthusiasm, and his love for Judaism.”
Sessler and his wife, Nina, a clinical psychologist, live in Freehold within walking distance of his new congregation.