MONTCLAIR, NJ - Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, has been named 2019 Rabbinic Human Rights Hero by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
On May 22, Tepperman was given the award during a ceremony for leading his congregants and colleagues across faiths to fight for a variety of social justice causes, including LGBTQ rights, reduction of gun violence, and defending immigrants and refugees.
Tepperman has been the spiritual leader of Bnai Keshet since 2002.
Raised in Fresno, California, Tepperman described his hometown as a world away from the liberal enclaves many might picture when they think of the Golden State. Growing up, Fresno had a diverse population and an active havurah of which his parents were leaders. He recalled in published reports, being engaged by his community’s participatory and intellectual nature, similar to what he would later understand as Reconstructionist Judaism.
Tepperman attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he majored in American Studies and discovered activism and community organizing. He was first arrested trying to shut down the production of first-strike nuclear missiles at Lockheed Martin just up the road from the college.
Tepperman's recent act of civil disobedience occurred last year as he and 5 others, staged a sit-in inside the offices of who has been described as an anti-DACA member of Congress. Known as the Westfield Six, Tepperman and the others were arrested.
Outside Congressman Leonard Lance's office, Rabbi Tepperman was arrested alongside, Rev. Ann Ralosky and Rev. John Rogers of First Congregational Church in Montclair, Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz of B’nai Abraham in Livingston, Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit member Kristen Peck and Make the Road New Jersey youth leader Nedia Morsy were charged with Defiant Trespass after refusing to leave the office of Leonard Lance after the office closed, according to police.
Nearly 100 protesters had stood outside the office on North Avenue Monday afternoon to demand that Lance publicly support a “clean” DREAM Act and to denounce Trump’s immigration policies, according to Sara Cullinane, director of Make the Road New Jersey, an Elizabeth-based organization that advocates for immigrants.
Though they pled not guilty, charges were later dropped.
Activism is something familiar to Tepperman. After graduating college, he worked as a union organizer in his home state as he searched for ways to combine his commitment to activism with his love for Judaism. These days, there is a plethora of Jewish organizations and rabbinic positions pursuing grassroots activism in a Jewish framework. In the mid-1990s the options were far more limited.
As he researched and applied to rabbinical schools, and learned more about Reconstructionist Judaism, Tepperman reported that he identified with this movement.
Tepperman is a founding member of New Jersey Together, a multi-faith activist group in northern New Jersey affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). He is working to build the state’s sanctuary movement to protect undocumented immigrants with Faith in New Jersey (FINJ).
He is also affiliated with Bend the Arc, a Jewish partnership for justice and is a past president of the Montclair Clergy Association and is on the executive committee of the RCC.
He is married to Sarah O’Leary and is the father of two children, Akiva-Lev and Sam.