The Young Israel of Fort Lee (YIFL) has welcomed Rabbi Sammy Bergman as its new rabbi, following in the footsteps of Rabbi Zev Goldberg, who served the Fort Lee community for the past nine years, and Rabbi Neil Winkler, a Jewish Link columnist who made aliyah in 2014 after serving YIFL for more than 30 years.
What inspired Rabbi Bergman to become a congregational rabbi? “I love people and I love Judaism,” he told The Jewish Link. “I have had the [good] fortune to experience many layers of the beauty and depth of Yiddishkeit and the many avenues it provides to forge a meaningful relationship with Hashem. I am passionate about sharing that beauty and depth and helping others access those avenues.” He noted that the rabbinate provides a variety of opportunities to connect with people, thus providing those access points.
Rabbi Bergman said he plans to experiment with different forms of social programming to provide opportunities for the YIFL membership to enjoy being together in meaningful ways. “Our members are extremely friendly and caring, and I have sensed that our people truly enjoy each other’s company.” As just one example, he plans to introduce a variation on a book club by inviting the author of a book that is of interest to the community to lead a guided discussion of the book’s relevant themes.
Discussing the factors that were influential in attracting him and his family to YIFL, Rabbi Bergman described the family’s Shabbos visit, and the inspiration they felt by how warm, welcoming and appreciative the community was. “Teaching Torah and helping people are passions of mine, and our shul’s membership showed a sincere interest in learning and forging relationships.” He added that he is excited for the opportunity to teach and inspire in such a supportive and nurturing environment.
Harry Wild, president of YIFL, noted that Rabbi Bergman’s leadership skills were already well established in his prior position. “One of his strengths is being a learned Torah scholar, as evidenced by his previous writings and shiurim,” Wild said. But it was “his keen mind and what we perceived to be his excellent people skills.” that finalized the shul’s decision. Wild said that the shul feels that Rabbi Bergman will “relate personally and professionally to our shul population and be effective in attracting more people to our community.”
Rabbi Bergman described what is important in the leadership of a congregation, given the current challenges in the spiritual, social and political climate. “In today’s polarized society, I think our people look to their congregations for a feeling of belonging and connection. They want the shul to be a place that is on one hand a safe space where they will be accepted, but on the other hand a dynamic environment where they are inspired and enlightened. I therefore strive to convey sincerely that I appreciate my congregants for who they are, but also try to challenge them to achieve a deeper understanding of Torah and mitzvos and raise their level of engagement. I believe that effort can create the shul environment members seek.”