A large and enthusiastic crowd of congregants, colleagues and friends came together on June 15, to watch as Rabbi Joshua and Naava Hess were officially installed as congregational rabbi and rebbetzin at the Young Israel of East Brunswick’s annual dinner. Also honored were Gary and Faigie Cornick as Distinguished Leadership awardees, and Yehoshua Weinstein and Beth Glantz as Youth Service awardees.
The ballroom at the beautiful Sheraton Eatontown hotel was the site of the event, generously donated for the evening by hotel
owners and YIEB members Francine and Carey Tajfel. Dinner Chair Michelle Falk, noted that
after a two year hiatus, the annual dinner returned with a revamped format that included a full buffet and pre-recorded presentation segments to make the event shorter than the usual cocktail hour and plated dinner. Shifting from its usual winter schedule to June also allowed for some dining tables to be available outdoors.
Master of Ceremonies Joseph Shmulewitz, noted that despite the unprecedented disruption to our lives of the pandemic, there were many people responsible for maintaining the stability of the shul and extended community.
Local rabbanim, including YIEB Rabbi Emeritus Yaakov Wasser, Rabbi Yaakov Luban and Rabbi Sariel Malitzky from Congregation Ohr Torah in Edison, and Rabbi Mayer Freedman and Rabbi Dovid Gross from Torah Links, were on hand for the festivities.
Rabbi Hess offered a pre-installation dvar Torah, speaking about Moshe hearing lashon hara about himself, but Hashem reminding him of his good qualities. We learn from this that we should perceive and feel Hashem in everything we do and appreciate all we are given with thankfulness.
Rabbi Baruch Neuberger, menahel of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Pikesville, Maryland, spoke at the installation. He noted that he was previously in the area last fall when YIEB had a celebration for hachnasat sefer Torah and said that installing a new rabbi is analogous to gaining a new sefer Torah, in that the Torah is there to be learned and the rabbi is there to facilitate the learning.
In a humorous moment, the installation was compared to a coronation during the presentation. As Rabbi Hess stood at the stage, Falk presented him with a paper crown and a tiki torch meant to resemble a scepter. Many guests noted appreciably how Rabbi Hess’s sense of humor helped him become such an integral part of the community.
Long-time YIEB member Barry Schecter attended the dinner, noting, “It was not so much a formality as a chance to officially welcome a rabbi who has done a wonderful job leading our shul for the past year.” His wife Allison added, “The honorees were completely deserving of their honors, and we are so excited about YIEB’s future with Rabbi Hess. Not only is he learned and thoughtful, but he and Naava are so warm and friendly. We feel very fortunate to have them serve as leaders of the community.”
It could not have been easy to begin a new rabbinic posting amid the COVID pandemic. Having to meet the congregation via Zoom meetings and delaying getting to know people in person. All attendees who spoke with The Jewish Link agreed that Rabbi Hess had been up to the challenge. The creation of learning opportunities and other activities for all ages helped the community join together despite the difficulties.
Judy Goldrich, a former YIEB president, said “We’re so glad to see so many here together to officially install Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hess, who joined our YIEB community last summer. The Hess family has integrated so swiftly into the life and culture of our shul that it feels almost as if they’ve been here in East Brunswick much longer than only 10 months! In this relatively short time period, [everyone in our] congregation has felt their impact, their energy and their positive influence. Rabbi Hess has unveiled several new targeted learning initiatives for women, men, teens and children of all ages.”
Faigie and Gary Cornick received the Distinguished Leadership Award for the work they have done for the teen minyan at YIEB. In addition to the videotaped accolades they received for their work, they also received a beautiful framed piece of art.
Yehoshua Weinstein and Beth Glantz were honored for their work with the youth groups and junior congregation. Both recent high school graduates, they plan to spend the coming year learning in Israel.
By Deborah Melman