One of Brooklyn’s most august Reform temples is hiring an innovative rabbi to be its next spiritual leader, in the hope that he will usher in a new era for the Park Slope synagogue.
The rabbinic search committee of Congregation Beth Elohim this month unanimously voted to hire Rabbi Andrew Bachman, late of the group Brooklyn Jews, to take over for Rabbi Gerald Weider, who is retiring after 28 years. At a Jan. 9 board meeting, the synagogue’s trustees unanimously endorsed the committee’s recommendation, though the final vote will come from the entire congregation in March.
Rabbi Weider is on sabbatical through June and, according to his note to congregants on Beth Elohim’s Web site, is currently skiing in Park City, Utah, and could not be reached for comment.
Rabbi Bachman, 43, worked at the synagogue in the mid-1990s as its rabbi-educator while he was studying at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and shortly after he was ordained. His new position at Beth Elohim will begin July 1.
After his earlier tenure there he went on to build New York University’s Hillel into a nexus of Jewish culture, debate and study. While at NYU, he and his wife, Rachel Altstein, heard a buzz of discontent from their neighbors and friends who weren’t feeling attracted to any of the conventional synagogue offerings in Brownstone Brooklyn but were hungry nonetheless for Jewish contact.
So in 2004 Rabbi Bachman and Altstein created Brooklyn Jews. The group has attracted hundreds to Jewish Christmas Eve parties, hundreds more to a blow-out Purim party in a Park Slope performance space and still others to an ongoing survey course on Jewish thought. "Andy has a lot of strengths. He’s a wonderful teacher of Torah, is very dynamic, very involved in the community, is a very good person for outreach, and we’re looking for that," said Jules Hirsh, Beth Elohim’s president.
For Rabbi Bachman, working as a pulpit rabbi "is a long-held dream," he said. "It’s hard and blessed work, but it’s the pinnacle of the expression of what it means to build holy community."