Rabbi Herbert Bialik earlier this fall gave his last official sermon at Congregation Agudath Achim, the Bradley Beach synagogue he has led for 41 years.
At 74, he is starting a new chapter in his life: Along with Florence, his wife of 49 years, Bialik is relocating this month to the Israeli mountain village of Neve Daniel in the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion.
“It’s been our childhood dream to make aliya and settle in Israel,” said Bialik.
On Nov. 3 the synagogue hosted a farewell luncheon for Bialik, who has led the Modern Orthodox congregation since 1972. “I’ve had the best possible job in the world and the people here are wonderful,” Bialik, told NJJN.
He said that other members of the 100-family, summer-based congregation agree with him that Agudath Achim is “the best-kept secret on the Jersey shore.”
Agudath Achim — which once hosted Israeli statesman Abba Eban, and whose congregants have included the father of oil magnate Leon Hess — is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.
A Yeshiva University graduate who previously served in the communities of Roosevelt, NJ, and Troy, NY, before joining Agudath Achim, Bialik is a former president of the Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate. A longtime advocate for mental health causes, he has served as chaplain at Fort Monmouth, the Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital, and Van Dyke Hospice at Community Medical Center in Toms River.
“Bradley Beach is a fantastic community and the nature of the synagogue has allowed me to work in chaplaincy and enjoy a variety of wonderful experiences throughout my career,” Bialik said. “Moving to Israel is something my wife and I wanted to do for umpteen years and at this time in our lives, we decided that we didn’t want to sleep on our dreams too long.”
“Rabbi Bialik is a wonderful and caring man who regularly visits people in the hospital and who officiated at my own son’s wedding,” said Ocean Township resident Fred Hochberg, who this year celebrated his own milestone 25th year as president of Agudath Achim. “He’s helped establish a very nice and dynamic congregation over the years.”
Congregant and board member David Levitt said that the shul will soon begin the search for a successor and will aim to have a new religious leader in place for the 2014 summer season.
“We have no idea what life after Rabbi Bialik will be like,” said Levitt, who lives in West Orange but spends summers with his family in Bradley Beach. “His style is so welcoming and open and he’s created a friendly and relaxed environment that we never want to lose.”
The Bialiks have five married children — two in New Jersey and three in Israel — and 19 grandchildren. “I look forward to achieving personal fulfillment in Israel and to the opportunity to reconnect with our family there,” the rabbi said. “I’m very grateful to the Jewish community in Bradley Beach for the gracious way in which it enabled me in my journey and look forward to continuing to pursue volunteer activities in Israel.”
The Bialiks’ move is being facilitated by Nefesh B’Nefesh; their son Eli is a member of the Nefesh B’Nefesh team that provides support to American and Canadian olim.
Rabbi Bialik also expressed his gratitude to his wife — Florence Bialik is a social worker who has been active in the women’s branch of the Orthodox Union, a leader in the Arthritis Foundation at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, and a hospice advocate and volunteer — “for being an essential part of this rabbinic team serving Bradley Beach.”