With a father and mother who have musical backgrounds, and a father and father-in-law who are rabbis, it is natural that Joshua Strom entered the rabbinate — with a musical beat.
Assistant rabbi for three years at Temple Shaaray Tefila on the Upper East Side, he has handled a variety of duties at the Reform congregation — counseling, youth group work, religious school teaching; now teaching two adult education liturgy courses — but his biggest accomplishment is the bi-monthly Shabbat Unplugged alternative worship service he leads for a young crowd, mostly 20s and 30s, few of them Shaaray Tefila members, many of them residents outside the area.
The 1½-hour service, which began before the rabbi joined the temple, features a spiral-bound Kabbalat Shabbat siddur with traditional prayers and creative readings, the rabbi’s 10-minute sermon, and a band in which he plays a bongo-type drum. Attendance at the service has risen from 40 to a standing-room-only 200-plus, he says.
The services — no bima; everyone sits at the same level — attract a mixed crowd, including some senior citizens, with roots in all branches of Judaism, people “who wouldn’t be anywhere near a shul if it weren’t for this.”
Services are followed by an Oneg Shabbat, but the people don’t come for the food or schmoozing, Rabbi Strom says. “This generation very much is spiritually seeking. They want to connect.”
Part of his inspiration came from the services he attended his first Friday night at Colgate University. There was barely a minyan; services were uninspiring. “Right then, I thought,” he told the school’s alumni magazine, “If I were the rabbi, I’d …”
Sang for Sen. Clinton: A member of an a cappella singing group at Colgate, Rabbi Strom sang the National Anthem for senatorial candidate Hillary Clinton – and Bill – in 2000 during a campaign stop in Syracuse. Sports fan: An avid follower of Philadelphia’s teams, the rabbi attended a victory parade for the World Series winning Phillies in 2008 before taking Amtrak to New York for his installation at Shaaray Tefila that evening.