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Friday, September 17, 2021
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The Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center, located in Livingston, is thrilled to welcome its new head rabbi and rebbetzin, Rabbi James and Rebbetzin Sarah Proops.

The couple has had an interesting professional journey on their way to the Essex County suburban community they will now call home. They both grew up in London in committed religious families. After their marriage they made aliyah, where they spent five years learning and teaching in Jerusalem. At that time, they were encouraged by rabbis and mentors to return to England to serve the Jewish community, and they spent the next two years as Aish directors at the University of Leeds, working with Jewish students from all backgrounds. After this they were recruited to be the assistant rabbinic couple at Mill Hill United Synagogue in England, a shul with over 1,200 families, where they spent another two years.

Neither Rabbi Proops nor Sarah had ever planned to come to America, but a phone call one motzei Shabbat drastically altered their professional and personal lives.

In 2017, they received a call from Sarah’s brother, who had been vacationing in Los Angeles. He had heard that the Young Israel of Century City was looking for an associate rabbi, and insisted that the Proops would be perfect for the position. Rabbi Proops did a little research and learned that working at that shul would give him the opportunity to serve with the esteemed Rabbi Elazar Muskin, the shul’s head rabbi and then-president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

“I knew immediately that it would be an amazing opportunity,” he said. “I made a phone call, had a few Skype interviews and we went for a Shabbos. We were offered the position and thought our kids were young enough to uproot their lives and make the move.”

They took the job, “crossed the pond,” and spent the next four years in LA. “We came in with a strong agreement to work with the young families,” Rabbi Proops said. The young professionals’ minyan at the shul nearly quadrupled during the couple’s tenure, due in large part to their warmth, relatability and commitment.

“Then COVID happened,” Rabbi Proops said, “which changed everything.

“Just before Shavuot we got a call from Michael Chapman, a co-chair of Suburban Torah’s rabbinic search committee. Apparently he had asked around and my name came up a few times. They needed to find a rabbi to replace Rabbi Mischel.”

According to the Proops, “Livingston, New Jersey was not somewhere we were familiar with. In fact, we had never been to New Jersey before we interviewed.”

“The reason we’re here,” added Rabbi Proops, “is the selection committee was of course looking to hire, but also was a walking advertisement for the community. They really sold the community very well. We realized that what is important to the shul and community is very much in tune with our belief system and what’s important to us.”

With Rosh Hashanah less than two weeks away, the Proops family moved to Livingston, unpacked their belongings, and the children started school. Shabbat Parshat Nitzavim is their first Shabbat as rabbi and rebbetzin of the shul.

“It’s just a question of diving into the deep end straight away,” Rabbi Proops said. “We don’t have time to get involved slowly.

“It’s really a blessing to just slot into what’s already established,” he continued. “That way we get to see things as they really are and have amazing exposure to everybody.

“After Yom Tov we can really sit down and start planning for how we’ll support the community and lead it into the next phase. We want to continue to grow the community,” he said. “Rabbi Mischel did an amazing job drawing in young people. [At our Shabbat here] I kept asking people how long they’d lived here and why they’d moved here. Everyone said the same thing: ‘The community is so warm and friendly; it’s a place we want to raise our kids, build a home, and where we can be part of something.’”

Sarah, who was trained as the U.K.-equivalent of a yoetzet halacha, plans to share in the responsibilities inherent in being the rabbinic couple for the shul. “We tag team a little bit,” she shared. “It is our vision, together.”

“The challenge for us,” Rabbi Proops noted, “is that as a community gets bigger, it becomes harder to maintain the sense of closeness and the small community vibe. We are going to work to keep what’s special about the community even as it grows.”

He added: “Just as the newer community members were looking for someplace where they could feel comfortable to raise their families, we wanted that as well. We are joining the community. We do not plan to just lead from the front; we want to lead from within and be part of the community.”

Rabbi and Rebbetzin Proops have four children, Ashi (11), Aharon (8), Yonah (6) and Rina (3). The children are very excited about this new adventure.

For more information about the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center or the Livingston community, visit
www.suburbantorah.org

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