“I’m in three different places right now,” said Rabbi Brian Leiken. “I’m greatly looking forward to once again being in one place.”
Temple Beth Sholom’s future spiritual leader currently lives in Rye Brook, which about midway between his current congregation in Norwalk, CT and future congregation in New City. Rabbi Leiken is preparing to speak from the pulpit at as the new rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom on July 1. Until then, he will continue as assistant rabbi at Temple Sholom in Norwalk where he has been for seven years, five in his current position. Temple Sholom has about 420 families and is slightly larger than Temple Beth Sholom.
Frot he time being, he has been trying to spend at least one day a week in New City. Rabbi Leiken anticipates moving to Rockland with his wife Shara Abraham, an assistant Westchester District Attorney, and their children, Kaleb and Ari, so he can be close to the synagogue. He believes it is incredibly important as a rabbi to be part of the community. He said part of being a rabbi is a devotion to the community and being a member of it.
“This career is a career that is all encompassing,” he said.
Rabbi Leiken joins as longtime retires. Rabbi Fass led the reform temple for 34 years.
Rabbi Leiken said, “My goal is to come in and listen and tell my story and listen to other people and building a connection.”
The Cleveland, OH native hopes to encourage congregants and others to contemplate and appreciate the world around them. Observing Shabbat and participating in prayer provides those opportunities. He said people need that moment to sit back and reflect and wonder about their world.
“I think prayer is ultimately about awareness,” he noted, adding that he believes it inspires people to care about the “broken world.”
One of Judaism’s basic tenets is to teach social justice as world society deals with problems and challenges. Rabbi Leiken said that sentiment exists at Temple Beth Sholom now.
“Clearly there’s already here a passion for social justice,” he observed. “I’ve met a number of congregants who have that on their minds as one of the main goals for Jewish living. And it goes beyond the Jewish community. It’s essential to care and have compassion for human beings as a whole. So I’m delighted that this community has such a passion towards that.”
He sees his role in building a community as the one to bring people together.
“It’s being with people, introducing people and allowing relationships to build, he said.
He plans to share his fascination with American Jewish history, particularly in the entertainment field. In addition to being an amateur musician who plays guitar, piano and banjo, he is an accomplished puppeteer.
“I was always interested in how American Jews became involved in the entertainment industry,’ he said.
Rabbi Leiken, who is in his mid thirties, emphasized the importance of spending time with the younger members of the congregation.
“I think the most critical point in engaging young people is the recognition that young people engage each other,” he explained. “That leadership is something that is not just one person. The best definition of leadership I’ve ever heard is someone that develops other leaders.”
It is something that he strives to do in the congregation. He spoke about asking Youth Group members to join him on the bimah in front of the congregation. As they walked to the front of the sanctuary they invited other children along the way.
Many youths have told him they view the synagogue as a place where they can be themselves and not feel forced to make choices. He wants that atmosphere to exist at Temple Beth Sholom. He’s had that chance with his current congregation to engage young people and assist them with learning Jewish values.
“In synagogue, this is not a place to qualify for the next level,” he said. “It’s to grow and to constantly find meaning in life and develop the skills that are necessary later. Not simply to beat this round to get to the next one.”
Rabbi Leiken graduated from Brandeis University in 1998 with a B.A. in sociology and then worked in Washington, D.C. as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. From there he became a senior legislative associate for Public Campaign, a non-partisan organization dedicated to campaign reform. At that point Rabbi Leiken realized that he wanted to make a contribution at a more individual, rather than legislative level.
He was ordained in May of 2007 from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. His rabbinic experience includes a small congregation in Rocky Mount, N.C. and Temple Shaaray Tefillah in New York City and he and his wife, Shara, spent a summer in Russia as educators with American Jewish World Service.