New rabbi’s mission: ‘reboot’ synagogue life

New rabbi’s mission: ‘reboot’ synagogue life

Rabbi Aaron Gaber and his wife, Sharon Bromberg, with their kids, from left, Reena, Benjamin, Aliza, and Yonah.
Rabbi Aaron Gaber and his wife, Sharon Bromberg, with their kids, from left, Reena, Benjamin, Aliza, and Yonah.

Drawn initially to teaching and informal Jewish education, Rabbi Aaron Gaber, a native of Manchester, Conn., eventually decided on a career in the Conservative rabbinate. 

“I can’t imagine doing anything other than being a congregational rabbi,” he said. 

Gaber will become senior rabbi at Congregation Brothers of Israel in Newtown, Pa., on Aug. 1, after 14 years at Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor. He is succeeding Rabbi Aaron Philmus, who, after two years at Brothers of Israel, is leaving to become religious leader at Torat Yisrael in East Greenwich, RI. 

Brothers of Israel, which is smaller in membership than Gaber’s previous synagogue, sits within a large unaffiliated Jewish community, and Gaber is excited about the opportunities for growth. “Brothers of Israel is right at this moment poised to do new and different things and experiment with how to create, build, and enhance community,” he said.

Gaber said he looks forward to connecting with people and creating community in different ways. “Part of it is relationship building, helping my new congregation to become a communal congregation — the idea that we serve our members but also serve the entire community,” he said. “We are just starting to look at programs to be much more of an outreach synagogue.”

Active in his family’s synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom, and United Synagogue Youth, Gaber was drawn to Jewish education after his summer on USY Israel Pilgrimage. After a year elsewhere, he transferred to the Joint Program of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University.

He decided to pursue the rabbinate rather than a doctoral degree, and through his seminary experiences in army and hospital chaplaincy work, chose to move toward a congregational pulpit. “I loved working with different people in different roles,” he said.

Gaber’s first position after rabbinical school was as the first full-time rabbi at Adat Chaim in Reisterstown, Md. “It was a relatively new congregation, and I built a lot of the infrastructure,” he said. This included bringing the religious school, which had been under the tutelage of another rabbi, into the congregation, formulating both synagogue and communal adult education programs, and creating a post-b’nei mitzva program. 

After four years at Adat Chaim, in August 2000, Gaber moved to Congregation Beth Judah at the Jersey shore, where he and his wife, Sharon Bromberg, raised their four children. Bromberg is a Jewish educator who teaches at the Solomon Schechter-affiliated Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees, where their youngest daughter just finished sixth grade. 

Among the highlights of his 14 years at Beth Judah was a musical play based on the young adult Holocaust book Number the Stars. Gaber served as executive producer and educator for the community production, whose seven performances each May have been viewed by nearly 12,000 students over the last eight years.

Beth Judah also ran events cosponsored by several greater Philadelphia synagogues and organizations. “Because we are a shore community, we try to take advantage of our natural resources and for several years we have had ‘Devotion by the Ocean,’ musical instrument Friday night services, and we get upward of 500 people at one time, on the beach in Ventnor,” he said.

He is looking forward to similar outreach opportunities in Newtown.

“The next generation is not necessarily affiliating or joining but is seeking Jewish experiences,” he said. “My hope and dream for Brothers of Israel is for us to help connect those individuals with their Judaism, and help them grow as individuals and understand the power that Jewish life and Jewish tradition can have for them as their families are growing.” 

He believes Jewish experiences must reflect modernity.

“It is not our bubbe’s synagogue anymore. We need to go through a reboot of what synagogues are and what they offer to the community,” he said. “Our role is to share Jewish values with people and put those values into actions.”

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