By ERIN ROLL
Marc Katz is barely a month into his new role as rabbi of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield. And the Montclair resident knows that he has some very big shoes to fill.
“Following a wonderful rabbi like [former rabbi Steven Kushner] is not an easy task. So I’m sprinting to get up to speed,” Katz said during an interview in his office. Only that day, he had been on the phone helping a member of the congregation make funeral arrangements for a relative.
Kushner retired this year after 38 years of serving as Ner Tamid’s rabbi.
On his first weekend as rabbi, Katz spent Sunday moving all of his boxes into the office so that the office staff on Monday would see he was set up and ready to get to work.
That wasn’t the only moving Katz has had to do. Katz and his wife bought a house on the Montclair-Glen Ridge border two weeks before Katz officially started as rabbi on July 1.
The contents of his office, shelves of religious and philosophical texts, also include a Superman bobblehead and a guitar propped in the corner by the window. He uses the guitar to lead the preschool Shabbat group, he said.
He has been doing house meetings or visits to the homes of families of the congregation and getting to know them. Katz put together an “analog Facebook:” an album of photos of the different families he meets.
Katz is originally from Barrington, RI, and his parents still live there. His wife, Ayelet, works in New York as a nurse practitioner.
Prior to coming to Ner Tamid, Katz had been with a congregation in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for 10 years, six of them as an ordained rabbi. He took on some rabbinical duties after the senior rabbi left unexpectedly.
Katz felt he was ready to preside over a congregation of his own, so he started the job hunt. He quickly bonded with the congregation at Ner Tamid, so when they offered him the position, he chose it.
He has also published a book, “The Heart of Loneliness,” an examination of applying the tenets of Judaism to an examination of loneliness in day-to-day life. The book also cites examples from the Torah: Moses, Tamar.
He had words of praise for Cantor Meredith Greenberg and her musical talents.
Katz is especially looking forward to presiding over the high holy days, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And for the first time, the congregation will see him, rather than Kushner, leading the service. One of his favorite rituals at Rosh Hashanah is Tashlikh, the symbolic casting away of sins by throwing pieces of bread into a body of water.
“My favorite prayer and song is Avinu Malkeinu which is one of the defining prayers of the day. It speaks about God being merciful and the importance of grace, which many don’t think is a Jewish idea but is actually a huge part of our theology – the idea that God can care and love us even if we do nothing to earn it. The melody, both the choral and the folk define the holiday for me and add to the soundtrack of the Days of Awe.”
Katz said he would like to see Ner Tamid engage more with the community. Earlier last week, he had a meeting with Albert Pelham, the chair of the Montclair NAACP. And he would like to set up meetings with other houses of worship and community groups in Montclair, Glen Ridge and Bloomfield.
“When you’re a rabbi, the most important thing is the people you serve,” Katz said. This includes being present for families when they go through pivotal moments in life. He recalled one moment in his career when he had been offered a job with a rather prestigious institution, which would have involved not acting in the role of a rabbi.
But, he remembered that for one particular family, he had presided over the wife’s conversion to Judaism, the couple’s marriage and the bris of their son. And he knew that being present for a family during important life moments was more important than a prestigious job title, so he declined the institution’s offer.