When Rabbi Vicki Seren Tuckman succumbed to breast cancer on April 7, Temple Micah in Lawrenceville lost a leader who, in just a short time, bonded so strongly with the congregation and the community that more than 1,000 people attended her funeral and another 500-plus tuned in via webcam.
Tuckman, 45, had been the religious leader of the unaffiliated, egalitarian synagogue since July 1, 2012, less than three years.
In that brief span, said Bob Pollack, a former temple president, she succeeded in connecting so effectively with the 170 member units — including families, singles, and single parents — that everyone felt a “special relationship” with her.
In his eulogy, Larry Leder, the current president, said, “Like all great leaders, Vicki had high expectations; she wanted you to be the best you can be — which was often more than we thought we could be.”
Describing Tuckman as “nurturing, informative, active, and engaging,” especially with students in the religious school, Leder said, “She was a fount of ideas — relentless and yet so positive. Her humor touched us. We loved her sermons, granting us permission to think for ourselves about our religion, our connection to God. Rabbi Vicki inspired us to action.”
These accomplishments are even more impressive, considering that the 46-year-old Temple Micah meets for services just one Friday each month and has no required dues. It supports itself entirely on voluntary donations, fees for special events, and tuition from more than 60 students at its Irving Seligman Religious School.
Born in New York City and a resident of Princeton for more than 13 years, Tuckman was ordained in 2003 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. In addition to her duties at Temple Micah, she also served as spiritual leader to Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, Pa.
Survived by her husband, Rob; her children, Jonah, Elon, and Yael; her father, David Sackser; and a brother, Andrew Sackser, she was known as an avowed “keeper of the earth” who enjoyed yoga, spin classes, and walks in the woods.
Mary Kuller, the congregation’s immediate past president, said, “Vicki Tuckman was exactly what Temple Micah needed, and I like to think we were what she was seeking as well. The Yiddish word that has been used to describe her coming to Temple Micah is bashert, or destiny, often used to refer to soulmates.”
Tuckman’s funeral service was held at Temple Beth-El on Route 206 in Hillsborough. “The crowd was so large that a portion of the highway had to be closed,” said Adrienne Rubin, Temple Micah’s cantorial soloist since August 1998.
Rubin confessed to being a little nervous when Tuckman started at Temple Micah, since she was replacing Ellen Greenspan, a popular rabbi who had been in the post for 21 years.
The doubts disappeared quickly, however, said Rubin. “Vicki was a perfect fit and was able to take Temple Micah even further than we had thought possible — and in a very short period of time.
“Our congregants miss her laughter, her compassion, and her strength. Her students miss her impromptu lessons, her joy at Jewish learning, and her nonstop ability to find connections between everyday life and Torah,” said Rubin. “I miss standing with her on the bima, trading smiles, songs, lessons, and spirituality.”
Never housed in a building of its own, Temple Micah has been a longtime tenant of the historic Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville. The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey A. Vamos, church pastor, described Tuckman as “one of the most ‘alive’ people I’ve known. She and I worked on common projects — doing a joint seder a couple of years ago. She was truly a force of nature and will be missed by all her ministerial colleagues in Lawrence Township.”
Weeks after her death, the praise and honors continue to accumulate. On the two-month anniversary of Tuckman’s passing, Lashir, the Jewish Community Choir of Princeton, will dedicate a song to her memory at a free concert scheduled for Sunday, June 7, at 3 p.m. at The Jewish Center in Princeton. The song’s composer, Raquel Pomerantz Gershon of Dallas, will be present for the song’s world premiere.
“The piece is titled ‘Ashrei Ha’ish,’ which translates to ‘Happy is the person,’” said choir director Dr. Marsha Bryan Edelman.
In an on-line message, Tuckman’s husband Rob thanked Temple Micah for what he called its “incredible honoring of our beloved Vicki. This outpouring of love and support will continue to be the medicine that will keep me and my family going during these and future difficult times to come.”