RARITAN TWP., NJ — Rabbi Eric Cohen will come to the pulpit at Flemington Jewish Community Center on August 1.
Cohen’s arrival comples a two-year period of transition for the synagogue. With a background in both Jewish scholarship and the business world, he brings many skills to the position.
A native of New York, Rabbi Cohen holds a PhD in ancient Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Yale University. After 14 years as a market researcher in the pharmaceutical industry, Cohen decided to take a leave and attended Pardes Institute in Jerusalem.
Setting his sights on becoming a rabbi, he enrolled in Hebrew College Rabbinical School, where he was ordained in 2012. For the past five years, he has held the pulpit at Temple Israel in Manchester, NH, and also taught at the Rashi School in Dedham, Ma, a Reform Jewish day school. He has been active in creating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ Jews, exploring innovative davening experiences and collaborating with his interfaith clergy colleagues on social justice issues.
“We are thrilled to welcome Rabbi Cohen to our synagogue,” said Mindy Engle-Friedman, the board president of the FJCC in a press release. “He comes to us with a depth of experience in Jewish community leadership and education, pastoral care, and interfaith programming. His work will broaden our appreciation of global Jewish life and culture. We look forward to his spiritual leadership.”
FJCC began a process of rabbinical transition following the death of Rabbi Evan Jaffe in August 2015, after he had held the pulpit there for 28 years.
The lay leadership of the synagogue understood the difficulty of shifting from the presence of such a long-serving and beloved rabbi to a new spiritual leader. As a result, they decided to hire an interim rabbi who would serve for one year, during which time the congregation could rebound from the shock of its loss, clarify its long-term priorities, and identify a long-term rabbi who would carry FJCC into the future.
Rabbi Jacob Malki, Egyptian-born and Italian-raised, served in that one-year position.
“His commitment to Jewish education, ability to connect with people, and engaging personality matched the priorities expressed by members of our congregation,” Engle-Friedman said. “His extensive experience as an interim rabbi was valuable in guiding the FJCC during that period of transition.”
When asked how he perceives his spiritual role, Cohen likes to quote a mentor of his, Rabbi Art Green, who said, “We are here to be leaders of the Jewish people. We are here to stand up for the best of our tradition’s teachings and to guide Jews toward them. But our teaching is also one of love that extends to all humanity, and indeed the kingdom of all God’s creatures. Only in that way do we give flesh and bone to the commandment of loving God and manifesting this by loving one another as we love ourselves.”
Although Cohen’s term at FJCC officially begins August 1, he will preside at the evening service at 9 p.m. on July 31, which ushers in the Ninth of Av, the most tragic day in the Hebrew calendar.
Flemington Jewish Community Center is located at 5 Sergeantsville Road here.