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Temple Beth El Fetes Rabbi On His 10th Anniversary

Rabbi Eli 10th Anniversary - 1

Rabbi Eli Garfinkel and his wife, Naomi Lasky, at the April 10 dinner honoring him for his 10th anniversary at Temple Beth El.


Rabbi Eli Garfinkel said he knew from his first meeting with members of Temple Beth El that this was a special place.

“I could tell from the very first meeting that these were very good people who were personally invested in the future of their synagogue,” he said.

It’s been 10 years since Garfinkel came to the Hamilton Street synagogue, a milestone acknowledged by an April 10 dinner in his honor, during Temple Beth El’s annual Spring fundraiser.

Garfinkel, a native of Stillwater, Ok., came to the synagogue from his position as assistant Rabbi in a Cincinnati, Ohio synagogue. Prior to that, he was assistant Rabbi in a synagogue in Toronto, Canada, which is where he met his wife, Naomi Lasky. He graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1999.

Garfinkel and his wife have 11-year-old twins, Sari and Josh.

The synagogue members were in the middle of a fundraising effort to make renovations to the building when Garfinkel first met with them, he said.

“I was very impressed by the fundraising they had undertaken to renovate the building,” he said. “It was not the kind of fundraiser where one person gives a million dollars, it was everybody gives a little bit. That shows that the community was on board with the effort.”

“I was also impressed by how Jewishly knowledgable the people were,” he said. “I’m not the only person in the room who knows something. That keeps me on my toes.”

Aside from the building renovation, Garfinkel said that he thought the biggest contribution he made to the synagogue was to continue the path to equal roles for men and women, a move begun by his predecessor.

“This was something they wanted from the get-go, and I was going to tell them that that’s what I wanted anyway,” Garfinkel said. “I did not impose it upon them, it was something they wanted imposed.”

“For many years, it was not an egalitarian congregation, my predecessor started moving them toward it and I brought them the rest of the way,” he said.

Garfinkel said that he hopes the congregation grows in the coming years.

“I would like to attract more members and show them what we’re about,” he said. “It’s a great community, these are very good people.”

That opinion is reflected back to Garfinkel by his congregants.

Raymond Sadow, a synagogue member for 50 years, said Garfinkel is “a wonderful, caring, compassionate man. We’re so happy to have him, and lucky as well.”

 

Mindy Altschul, a lifelong synagogue member, said Garfinkel is “energizing, forward-thinking, accommodating, welcoming and family oriented.”

She said the fact that they both have young families gives them an added connection.

“It’s really wonderful,” she said.

Garfinkel doesn’t attend to his Rabbinical duties solely in the synagogue. This is one theologian who has embraced technology.

“I write apps for the iPhone in my spare time,” he said. “Mostly Jewish educational apps.” He has a number of them for sale in the iTunes store.

In fact, he’s about to launch a new one, he said.

“When Jews pray, we have to have a group known as a minion, 10 Jews in the same room to pray,” he said. “That can be a challenge, especially since we don’t live in small villages anymore.”

Garfinkel wrote an app that will allow a prayer leader to push one button and notify members of the group to meet and pray.

“It’s built on normal text messaging, but you don’t have to type in any of the phone numbers,” he said.

He expects the app to be in the iTunes store soon, he said.

As for his future, Garfinkel said he would like to stay where he is.

“Coming from the Midwest, everybody thinks New Jersey is ‘The Sopranos,’ ” he said. “It’s not like that. It’s a wonderful place. And in central New Jersey, it’s so close to New York, yet you have the small-town values that I’m used to, so you have the best of both worlds.”

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