Rabbi elects to come ‘home’ to Elizabeth
For Michael Bleicher, politics and pulpit are ways to serve others
Life has brought Rabbi Michael Bleicher around in a circle.
A onetime student of the Jewish Educational Center’s Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy in Elizabeth, he has returned to the area as rabbi at Elmora Hills Minyan, a Modern Orthodox synagogue located on the border between Union Township and Elizabeth.
In the years since graduating, Bleicher has lived in New York City and Washington, DC, working in politics; on Long Island, NY, as a rabbinical intern; and in West Orange, as an assistant rabbi.
“It’s so exciting to bring my daughter Meira through the very same hallways I used to walk through myself, as I developed into a ben Torah — a Torah scholar — during my formative high school years at RTMA,” he said. “It was the JEC community that fostered and encouraged my pursuit of a life dedicated to rigorous Torah study, while also supporting my interest in politics and improving the state of the broader Jewish community. The warm welcome we’ve received has only heightened our optimism for how much more we can achieve as a community.”
The drive to help those in need surfaced quite suddenly for Bleicher, when he was in 10th grade at RTMA. He heard about a father who had taken his children to Genoa, Italy, and forced them to convert to Catholicism. He started a letter-writing campaign at the school to raise awareness of the matter. “The school was very supportive, and the experience got me interested in politics,” he said.
Bleicher went on to study political science at Queens College in New York, and after an internship in Washington he became the first legislative fellow for the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, now known as the OU Advocacy Center. After that he was hired as staff assistant to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and as the deputy Jewish liaison on his re-election campaign.
He worked as a research analyst on former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s presidential campaign. For Bleicher, who grew up on Staten Island, it was a chance to return to New York City. “I felt I’d be able to help the Jewish community on a higher level,” he said. Two months later, he met his future wife, Yael, now a clinical pediatric dietician. He also returned to studying — this time at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. In addition to his rabbinic ordination from RIETS, Bleicher obtained his master’s in social work from YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
He served as a rabbinic intern for two years at the Great Neck Synagogue, on Long Island, and then “for three wonderful years” as an assistant rabbi at Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange. Having moved just 15 minutes’ drive to the south, he hopes to stay in touch with the friends he made there. “It was time to put my training to practice and take on greater responsibility,” he said.
Bleicher is also a social worker at the Jewish Family Service in Clifton and the outreach coordinator for Project S.A.R.A.H., its domestic violence and sexual abuse treatment and prevention program.
Shlomo Lieberman, president of Elmora Hills Minyan, which has fewer than 100 families, said, “We look forward to the rabbi and rebbetzin inspiring growth within us as individuals, within our shul, and within our community. I believe the Bleichers’ unique energy will help make the Elizabeth community a brighter spot on the tri-state area’s Jewish map.”