During his senior year of college, at a time when many young people are making critical career decisions, Philip Bazeley found himself at a crossroads.
Active in political and social causes for several years and a legal studies major at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he considered a career in the law, politics, or social work.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn native was an assistant volunteer coordinator at the New York Aquarium during his summers at college, a job he loved so much he considered becoming a teacher, perhaps specializing in environmental education.
“But when my grandmother passed away and I saw how the rabbi interacted with our family, I came to realize the rabbinate was a profession where I could combine all three of my passions into one job,” said Bazeley.
Bazeley entered rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he also earned master’s degrees in Hebrew literature and religious education, under the six-year Mandel Fellow program. He also completed clinical pastoral education training at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.
On June 15, he became assistant rabbi at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick. He succeeds Rabbi Rebecca Solielle Epstein, who left after three years when she relocated to Texas.
Bazeley said he was drawn to Anshe Emeth because it too encompassed all his passions and interests. “The main catch phrase they use around here on all their documents is ‘Come home to Jewish life,’ and when I interviewed here this place really did feel like home,” said the 29-year-old. “It felt like a place where I felt at ease and could build a professional home.”
The feeling was mutual, said Regie Roth of Kendall Park, chair of the Reform synagogue’s rabbinic search committee.
“He impressed us in that very first interview,” said Roth, also the temple’s second vice president. “He had a very solid background and a great sense of who we are here.”
She said Bazeley’s strong education background was a plus, since overseeing the religious school is part of the assistant rabbi’s duties.
“Because he works with children, that was a really important piece for us,” said Roth, “as was his incredible sense of humor.”
‘Proud to be a Jew’
Growing up in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens section the son of a social worker father and teacher mother, Bazeley attended Jewish day school through eighth grade and was “very involved” in his Brooklyn Heights synagogue youth group.
At college, Bazeley demonstrated against budget cuts and against the genocide in Darfur. He attended a Washington, DC, rally for Darfur six years ago, where the Jewish community was heavily represented. “That made me proud to be a Jew,” he said.
After college, Bazeley spent two years assisting his childhood rabbi as he made pastoral calls, led services, and conducted adult education sessions. The young protege also taught Hebrew school and helped coordinate the synagogue’s homeless shelter.
A veteran of the Reform camp movement, he was a camper and a counselor at URJ Eisner Camp in Massachusetts, and later Judaic director at Crane Lake Camp. There he met his future wife, Alyson, who is now the assistant education director at Temple Sholom in Fanwood. The couple, expecting their first child in October, lives in Highland Park.
“After my camp experience and working with the rabbi I really decided the rabbinate was the right professional choice for me, and it really did feel like a calling,” said Bazeley. “This is such a warm, healthy Jewish community where everyone has been fantastic.”
He added that he wants to work as a team with senior Rabbi Bennett Miller “to reach members in the best way possible, to constantly provide them with a Jewish home at this synagogue.”