Rabbi David Vaisberg says that guiding a congregation means more than just leading a Shabbat service or officiating at life-cycle events.
“I have this vision that Jewish life and tradition should connect with your body, mind, and soul,” said Vaisberg. “You shouldn’t just be a bystander to Jewish life; you should be participating. You should connect through the way you eat, the way you spend your days. It’s very important to find meaning in all aspects of how we spend our lives.
“My primary goal is to help people find that meaning and incorporate it into their lives.”
As the new rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, Vaisberg said, he would like to be a madrich, or guide, who leads other Jews on a journey to find “greater meaning, community, and holiness.”
Vaisberg, 28, succeeds Rabbi Deborah Bravo, who left after six years to take over as religious leader at North Shore Synagogue in Syosset on Long Island.
Sandy Wilson, a past temple president and chair of the rabbinic search committee, said Vaisberg immediately stood out from among 40 candidates.
“From the first moment we spoke to him, he had this dynamic aura around him,” she said. “He never seemed like he was fresh out of rabbinical school. He just had this sage wisdom beyond his years.”
Wilson said she believed Vaisberg is part of “the new wave of rabbinical leaders [who] think out of the box.”
“I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of new programming and outreach outside the temple,” she said, adding that she would “not be surprised if you see him at a park, if you see him at a shopping center or mall, or if you see him at a restaurant conducting Torah study.”
Wilson said another “big plus” was the rabbi’s commitment to personally meet every congregant over the next year.
“That was his mandate to himself,” said Wilson. “It was not ours.”
‘Raised on the bima’
Vaisberg was ordained in May at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, where he also earned master’s degrees in Hebrew literature and religious education. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from York University in Toronto.
He was born in Montreal and grew up in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, where his parents still live. His wife of just over a year, Miriam Palmer-Sherman, is a Manhattan law clerk. The couple lives in Metuchen, within walking distance of the synagogue.
Vaisberg said he is “very much into music” and likes to sing and play the guitar, drums, and piano. Other interests include yoga, biking, reading good mysteries, and “cooking everything; as long as it’s kosher I’m game to do it.”
Vaisberg said he knew he wanted to become a rabbi since age 14, calling his childhood rabbi — Lawrence Englander of Solel Congregation of Mississauga — “a tremendous mentor.”
“He raised me on the bima,” recalled Vaisberg, who served as a cantorial soloist and unofficial assistant to Englander.
“I was just playing guitar and singing with him and we were leading the service together,” said Vaisberg. “He was a tremendous leader and influence.”
Englander, who still serves at the congregation, will complete the circle when he comes to Edison Oct. 19 to install his former pupil.
As the only synagogue in a municipality of 600,000, the 300-family Solel Congregation was “a place where everyone was welcome and everyone was warm,” said Vaisberg.
A similar quality drew him to Emanu-El.
“I never felt that again until I came here,” he said. “Our first interview was done by Skype and I could feel the warmth of the community through the computer.”