Rabbi Andy Bachman, Congregation Beth Elohim
Building a vibrant local community in Park Slope
Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Rabbi Andy Bachman is turning a 150-year-old institution into a relevant and thriving force in the Brooklyn community. With multiple facets to this inclusive community, including an independent prayer minyan as well as Brooklyn’s popular Brooklyn By The Book series , CBE has become known in the neighborhood as a hub for volunteering. Immediately following Hurricane Sandy, CBE was called upon by the Park Slope community to help make meals, and rose to the task, providing nearly 9,000 sandwiches and 1,400 hot meals in just the first week alone. Mayor Michael Bloomberg recognized CBE’s relief effort as a significant contribution to New York City’s recovery from Sandy. Inspired by the Sandy relief effort, CBE recognized the capacity of its community, and continues its work to feed the hungry in its local community.
When trying to build a new vibrant community from an old congregation, what are your biggest opportunities and challenges?
The synagogue is the oldest institution in Jewish civilization--our obligation to keep it relevant is the most critical task we face. The biggest challenges in that endeavor have been three-fold. One, there is the challenge of developing a culture of innovation and leadership that sees the synagogue as being at the forefront of both Jewish values for the internal community but also outreach for the unaffiliated who are seeking a strong and meaningful connection to Jewish life. Two, while we are a Reform synagogue by movement affiliation and proudly uphold the progressive and enlightened values of our age, we are at core a pluralistic center for Jewish life and understand that denominationalism is no longer the key organizer of Jewish life. And three, the absolute imperative that we live out, with integrity, a strong message of social justice and a vitally strong relationship with Israel are central to our mission. I am happy to report that while each of these ideas are "challenges" we are a united community, pulling in one direction, and our growth and vibrancy are proof that with unity and vision, we can fulfill our goals of being a real center of Jewish life for Brooklyn.
What values is CBE built on?
CBE is built on the values all Jewish communities have been built on: Torah, Worship and Deeds of Loving-kindness. There are those who seek those values as religious and spiritual values and there are those who seek those values as secular values. We don't judge that. For myself as a rabbi, I am proud to have people identify with Jewish life, the Hebrew language, Israel, Jewish history, the moral and ethical principles that have guided us, the ongoing dynamic between being both "particular" (serving the needs of our fellow Jews) and being "universal" (fulfilling the prophetic charge that we are meant to be a light unto the nations.) Hundreds pray and study with us each Shabbat, and yet hundreds come to our book events, make meals for the poor, advocate for education or better gun laws. To my mind, this is all part of who the Jewish people are and my job as a rabbi and community leader is to simply strengthen the hands and hearts of those who want to do more good in the world through the sacred scaffolding of the synagogue.