LIVINGSTON, NJ — For 30 of his nearly 50 years in Livingston, Peter Kasdan served as rabbi of Temple Emanu-El of West Essex, guiding, teaching and serving as spiritual leader for local families, their teens, toddlers and tweens. On Friday, Sept. 23, the temple honored Kasdan’s 50th year in the rabbinate with an evening of celebration.

Beginning with a reception and a dinner, including prayers over the candles, wine and challah, 140 congregants came to share their personal thanks with Rabbi Kasdan. Others arrived later to celebrate at the Shabbat service in the sanctuary, led by Rabbi Marc Disick and Cantor Lori Corssin, joined by Shir Libeinu, the Temple Choir, as well as other lay leaders and former students.

The festive evening was chaired by Susan Posner and Lenore Lerner, both long-time congregants.

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“Each person Rabbi Kasdan meets becomes part of his mishpacha, his temple family,” said Posner. “Rabbi Kasdan has enriched my own personal Jewish journey in so many ways. As co-chair of the event, this was my way of saying ‘Thank you, Rabbi Kasdan.’”

According to congregants, Kasden modeled how to live a life with a focus on social justice and led his congregation always with an eye toward making their world a better place. 

Kasdan retired from his full-time duties at Temple Emanu-El in 2001 and relocated with his wife, Sheila, to Longboat Key, Florida. Upon his retirement, Kasdan was accorded the honorary title of Rabbi Emeritus.

The Rabbi and his wife have returned to Livingston each summer and fall to share in the Holiday lives of their local children and grandchildren and the Temple Emanu-El congregation. Rabbi Kasdan has served the congregation as consultant, providing the rabbis, cantors, educators, administrators and lay leaders with support and counsel evolving from his long involvement with the temple’s history.

The celebration was planned with both traditional prayers and melodies as well as some special features to highlight Kasdan’s journey with Temple Emanu-El. The Rabbi selected some of his favorite Shabbat music for the service, but was surprised by the humor of the “presidential” and family speeches as well as the special montage produced by Robert Allen using photos submitted from congregants who were grateful to Rabbi Kasdan for his officiation at their many celebrations.

Co-chair Lenore Lerner pointed out that this celebration would not be complete without a reminder of Rabbi Kasdan’s ongoing fight for social justice. Continuing today, he is Rabbinic Advisor to the Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium.

“We honored Rabbi Kasdan tonight for his devotion to our temple, and for his compassion and his empathy,” said Lerner. “He always inspired us to be better. It was a tribute to a very good man who is loved and respected.”

The final highlight of the evening was the display of the $5,000 check written to the Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium, raised by the congregation and friends to show that “we are making a difference.”