After an intense multistate search that involved a reconsideration of their synagogue’s basic mission, leaders of Congregation Ohev Shalom-Marlboro Jewish Center have installed a new rabbi whose last congregation was only 10 miles away.
On July 1, just hours after moving to a home near the synagogue, Rabbi Michael Pont stepped onto the bima to lead his first Shabbat service as religious leader of the 650-family Conservative congregation.
“It’s a great place with a lot of potential. I want to lead the community and be a part of all of the positive things going on here,” he told NJ Jewish News in a July 28 phone interview.
For the past seven years, Pont served as rabbi at the nearby Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen. “It was a great fit and I enjoyed it, but there was an opportunity to move to a larger congregation and still stay in this area,” he said.
Choosing Pont came at the end of a two-step process that began nearly a year ago.
“The process was a little bit different than the way a synagogue usually selects a new rabbi,” said congregation president David Greene of Morganville.
Phase one was called “Project Yachad,” a process of reevaluation and reflection intended to “bring our congregation to a place of unity and coming together,” he said.
Before searching for a replacement to Rabbi Toni Shy, who declined to renew her contract, “we started reaching out to congregants so we could better understand what Marlboro Jewish Center was, is, and wants to be,” said Greene.
“We held numerous conversations in the homes of congregants. The synagogue leaders really wanted to understand what our congregants want. It was critical for us to make sure we found the right candidate to take Marlboro Jewish Center into its next chapter.”
A search committee considered the applications of 25 candidates before agreeing on Pont.
“We needed someone who was in tune with the changes and understood not only the spiritual needs of our founders and the elders of our congregation but of today’s generation,” said Greene. “We want to make it more relevant to members in their 30s and 40s and revitalize the congregation so that it is a community where congregants can go for anything, from services to recreational and entertainment programs.”
Pont told NJJN he enjoys facing the challenges that come with his new job.
“The people here have a lot of hopes and dreams. So, especially in my first year, I am listening to my congregants to make sure that I understand their needs and what they are looking for.”
But the rabbi also looked back at his past pulpit at Beth Ahm, where he served 270 families. “Those years were crucial to my development as a rabbi. I couldn’t be the professional I am now without everything I learned at Beth Ahm. I will always be grateful to that community.”
He pointed to the differences between the congregations. “There are more members here, so there will be more life-cycle events,” said Pont. “There are more congregants who will need help and support. But at Marlboro there is also a larger support staff. I have a lot of help. It is a big congregation, but you know what? This is what I got into this business for.”
A month after Pont began his new job, Greene said the congregants could “sense a change overnight. Rabbi Pont’s commitment to Marlboro Jewish Center is second to none.”