The Young Israel of East Brunswick, which started with just six families 35 years ago, has continued to grow; its membership now includes more than 200 families.
To meet the needs of the thriving Orthodox congregation, it has hired its first full-time rabbi, Jay Weinstein, who will become religious leader on Aug. 1.
“We’re ready for a full-time rabbi,” said synagogue president Moshe Strauss. “We wanted someone who will help us to continue to grow and attract new families to the community.”
The 28-year-old Weinstein currently serves as assistant rabbi at Congregation Shaare Tefilla in Dallas as well as program coordinator for the Community Kollel of Dallas.
It is just that sort of “youthful exuberance” and fresh approach to imparting Torah and Jewish learning that attracted the shul to Weinstein. “He’s young and energetic, with strong communication skills,” said Strauss. “He has a strong interest in youth and some great ideas for engaging young people.”
Weinstein, a Miami Beach native, said he and his family had a “wonderful visit” when they came to East Brunswick for a Shabbat.
“We felt the community was warm and inviting and a community with a vision,” he said in a phone interview with NJJN. “It was one where we knew we would love to play a role and one in which we would feel comfortable raising our children.”
Weinstein’s wife, Sharon, is a math and Judaic studies teacher at a day school in Dallas and will begin teaching in September at Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School in South River. The couple has two children, Ora, who will turn four on July 10, and Ayal, one, and has purchased a house in the neighborhood surrounding the Dunhams Corner Road synagogue.
He will succeed Rabbi Yaakov Wasser, the only religious leader the synagogue has ever had, who served, part-time, for 30 years. He has been on sabbatical for the last year and is now officially retiring.
‘Pride in the shul’
Strauss said the shul began its search last August by sending inquiries to every national institution conferring Orthodox ordination and received 50 resumes. Seven candidates were interviewed, and two were invited to spend a Shabbat at the shul.
The synagogue’s leaders chose the candidate “people liked the best,” Strauss said. “The congregation is very excited.”
Weinstein, who holds a master’s degree in special education from Columbia University, said he has an interest in working with individuals with special needs. He previously taught special-needs children at public and day schools in New York.
“When I was growing up,” the rabbi said, “I was exposed to many volunteer activities in the world of special needs. It became a passion of mine.”
Weinstein also holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business and was ordained at its seminary.
At his current job, Weinstein has focused on youth, devising “out of the box” activities to explain holidays and Jewish concepts. It is something he plans on continuing at Young Israel.
“I was able to raise the youth department to a very high level,” he explained. “That attracts young families to the shul. The kids want to come to shul for the programming, and they bring their parents.”
However, he said, he wants the East Brunswick synagogue to be a “multi-faceted place where people of all ages can find spirituality through prayer and adult education.”
And while Weinstein said jokingly he looks forward “to escaping the 103 degree summers” in Dallas, he was serious about his new role.
“We found out people in the shul were committed to a tremendous amount of community involvement,” he said. “People really care about the shul; it plays a tremendous role in their lives and their children’s lives. There is a lot of pride in the shul and people are committed to working together with their new rabbi to make it a place that is inviting for new families who want to move into the East Brunswick community.”