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‘Right time’ for Rabbi to make Aliyah

מאי 23, 2008. New Jersey Jewish Standard: Abigail Klein Leichman

Congregational rabbis are often hesitant to move to Israel for a very practical reason: Most Israeli synagogues have either part-time rabbis, shared rabbis, or an all-lay leadership. Consequently, they must be prepared to find alternative ways to earn a living,

Rabbi Shalom Rosner of Woodmere’s Cong. Bais Ephraim Yitzchak is poised to change that reality when he and his wife and six children emigrate in August.

From left are Avigayil, 10, Michael, 2, Rabbi Shalom Rosner, 35, Yehoshua, 11, Dr. Tamar Rosner, 34, Naama, 5 and Avraham, 7. Not pictured is 8-week-old Eliyahu.

He is involved in a new initiative to found a "Western"-style Orthodox congregation. This kind of shul — with a professional pulpit rabbi and a synagogue that is central to local Jewish life — is what most American and British immigrants are accustomed to.

The synagogue is to be the focal point of a new community, Nofei HaShemesh, situated in Beit Shemesh. A city of about 70,000 residents between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh has attracted thousands of English-speaking newcomers in the past two decades.

"We had been planning on aliyah for years, but we weren’t able to go while my wife was in medical school and I was building up the shul," said Rosner in a phone interview before a planned meeting with prospective Nofei HaShemesh residents at Bergenfield’s Cong. Beth Abraham on Monday.

"It seemed to get more difficult and elusive to figure out where HaShem wanted us to give the most to klal Yisrael [the Jewish community]," said Rosner. He had an "aliyah clause" written into his contract from the time he was hired six years ago, allowing him the freedom to leave when he was ready.

"This year, with our oldest child in sixth grade, we felt it was now or never, and we started researching our options," he said. "I was offered a position at Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim in Beit Shemesh. And then we got a call that a builder wanted to start a community centered around a shul with an American rabbi. My wife and I were humbled by fact that it worked out the year we felt the time was right for our family to make aliyah."

Nofei HaShemesh was conceived by real-estate developer Shelly Levine and the construction company Kardan, Ltd. Levine’s firm, Tivuch Shelly, is handling marketing for the community, which already has some houses ready for occupancy and additional ones in the blueprint stage.

Levine was to accompany Rosner on his speaking engagements this month in communities from which she has received the most inquiries about the project. These areas also include Long Island’s Five Towns, Baltimore, and Toronto. "The Teaneck-Bergenfield area is very supportive of the type of community we are trying build," Rosner said.

The rabbi and his wife, Tamar, a pediatrician, will likely be joined in their move by at least one other family in their 125-family congregation.

"The Talmud tells us that one of the six questions we’ll need to answer [when we die] is, ‘Did you hope for the salvation?’ The decision to go live in Israel is a personal one, but the fire and the yearning always has to be there, and that is what we are trying to capitalize on," said Rosner, who has taught at Yeshiva University for seven years.

"One major issue in deciding to make aliyah is the desire to be part of a community in Israel — not to be a stranger," he continued. "We’re trying to start a community from the ground up, to build a place for Torah learning for both men and women, with a commitment to halacha [Jewish law], fellow Jews, and the Land of Israel. We hope to work with the many capable rabbis who are already there."

He expects the synagogue to offer a range of classes in English and in Hebrew, aimed at the community at large.

Information about Nofei HaShemesh is available at Nofei.co.il. Rosner may be reached through a link on the site.

"God gave us a tremendous gift 60 years ago," said Rosner. "It is a turning point in Jewish history, and it’s exciting to be part of this process, the next link of those who return to our homeland after so many years."

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