When the Young Israel of East Brunswick (YIEB) started its search for a new rav in the fall of 2020, the intent was to find someone who would be a good fit with its unique kehilla. After an active search, reviewing a number of well-regarded candidates, the members zeroed in on Rabbi Joshua Hess.
For the prior 11 years, Rabbi Hess served as rabbi of Congregation Anshe Chesed in Linden, and contributed to its growth in membership and youth programming, as well as the building of a state-of-the art mikvah and establishing a VAAD HaKashrus of Linden.
Rabbi Hess got his semicha from Ner Israel Rabbinical College in 2006, a master’s degree in pastoral counseling from Iliff School of Theology in Denver, and a master’s in Jewish studies from YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School. He has experience as a chaplain at St. Barnabas Medical Center, as a certified shatnez tester, an AIPAC Leffell Fellowship Mentor, and a leader in Catholic-Jewish interfaith work.
He is also a remarkably creative Torah teacher, equally comfortable sharing lectures on YUTorah.org—look for the dozen or more posted on topics including the weekly parsha, tefillah and chagim—and on contemporary topics on the HuffPost website. (See, for instance, his essays on “Why God Cares About the Super Bowl” and “Is Trash Talking Kosher?”)
Rabbi Hess is married to Naava, a teacher with considerable experience in Jewish education who is the lead kindergarten teacher in the Hillel Yeshiva in Deal. Together they have four children.
Rabbi Hess said that as he interviewed for the position at YIEB he found himself drawn to the warmth of the community, the members’ enthusiasm for Torah learning and the opportunity to help build the community further and move it into the next chapter of growth.
Asked to identify a few particular goals for his work at YIEB, Rabbi Hess shared with The Jewish Link:
1. He hopes to expand on their work in offering formal and informal shiurim and other Torah opportunities. He hopes to create a robust adult education program that is packaged in a way to draw in more members of the broader community;
2. He’s observed that there is a large contingent of young families who seek an active Jewish youth education program; he looks forward to working with the youth director to create a varied range of activities for children and teens;
3. He’s intent to strengthening YIEB’s ties with existing Orthodox institutions in the area and the region, such as NCSY; Netivot (located just two blocks away); and other local day schools, Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School and others;
4. He’d like to firmly establish YIEB and East Brunswick’s reputation as a viable destination for young families relocating from big cities like New York.
Rabbi Hess formally starts his new role at YIEB in early August. Yet a few shul leaders remarked that he’s been a presence in the shul for months already, carefully preparing to hit the ground running and work with them to revitalize and expand the reach of the shul.
Search committee co-chairs Devora Pava and Steve Moskowitz stated: “We were really fortunate to hire someone of Rabbi Hess’ caliber. We were concerned, coming out of the pandemic, that our search might not receive such a great response. We learned in the process that our community is much sought after, with a great reputation. We received dozens of resumes from many quality candidates. Rabbi Hess stood out clearly from the others and is a real find for our shul.”
“Even before he’s formally started in his role here, Rabbi Joshua Hess has already begun interacting with our Young Israel and even in this early stage he is having a positive impact on our membership,” said incoming shul president David Rabinowitz. “He is a man of high intellect who has a clear vision of how he hopes to bring our shul to greater and greater heights. I am honored to become the president of our Young Israel in this truly exciting time. We are all excited for the rabbi, rebbetzin and their four children to move to our community in a few short weeks.”
Founded in 1975, YIEB bills itself as “one Modern Orthodox community” with a full menu of programs, services and offerings. The website states: “We pride ourselves on fostering a diverse yet close-knit community with members of all backgrounds.” The shul has also established a well-earned reputation as both an active participant in the local VAAD HaRabbonim and as a partner in periodic initiatives with the Conservative and Reform synagogues in town.
For more information about YIEB and the surrounding community, visit www.yieb.org
By Harry Glazer