By Sabina Mollot
Last May, the rabbi at East End Temple, David Adelson, left his position after 16 years to pursue a position as dean of the New York Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
Since then, the Stuyvesant Square congregation has been led by interim rabbi Dennis Ross. In July, however, East End will have a new rabbi, Josh Stanton, who is currently serving as associate rabbi at Congregation B’Nai Jeshuruna in Short Hills, New Jersey. There, Stanton’s been focused on empowering lay leaders, supporting disabled worshippers and also expanding technology in synagogue life, a passion of his that got him recognized by the Huffington Post. The news site once referred to him as one of the “best Jewish voices on Twitter.” Additionally, as Stanton told Town & Village this week, he also has a strong interest in social justice efforts, and in Jewish/Muslim relations.
Reached on the phone, the Hoboken resident, who will soon be living in Park Slope with his wife, attorney Mirah Curzer, also spoke about his hopes for the nearly seven-decade old, reform East End Temple. In particular he plans to expand what are already active social justice efforts there.
His initial goals, however, will be to familiarize himself with worshippers and the neighborhood.
“The first thing you do as a religious leader is you need to get to know the community,” he said, adding that he thought it was “filled with such passion and energy.
“In terms of wider goals, East End Temple prides itself on its social justice, its very spirited worship and learning, and I want to build around those strengths and help it continue to grow its presence in Manhattan and beyond its walls,” Stanton said.
While many houses of worship have struggled in recent years, according to Stanton, East End has been thriving.
“In many ways my role will be building around existing strengths and helping to articulate what those strengths are to the world,” he said.
At this time, East End Temple, based out of a townhouse on East 17th Street, has 280 member families. Most live in the surrounding neighborhoods and it’s a highly multigenerational group, which Stanton said he’s happy about.
“One of the things I admire most about it is that it’s an intergenerational group, with individuals that are plugged into the community,” said Stanton.
This, he explained, is evident on well-attended Friday night Sabbath services, which he credited to Ross’s services and Cantor Shira Ginsburg’s musical program selections.
“East End is very vibrant,” said Stanton.
Asked about his thoughts of the neighborhood, where East End moved a decade ago after being located on Second Avenue and 23rd Street, Stanton said, “I think it’s one of the best neighborhoods in the country. I used to live on Bleecker and Thompson, walking distance, and I thought Greenwich Village and Gramercy and Stuyvesant Town were filled with culture and with diversity and filled with wonderful people. It is a treasure in New York City and it is a treasure I would say, nationally. It is a neighborhood I can’t wait to call my home socially and spiritually as well.”
As for having been recognized for his use of social media, Stanton said, “I think it’s very funny. It suggests we should invite more members of the Jewish community to get onto Twitter. I do think social media matters. It can extend relationships and deepen relationships. Social media is not an end all, but it’s a great way for me to keep up with what thoughts my friends and colleagues have. I’m on Twitter most days. I joined in the first year of its existence. I remember someone telling me, ‘This is going to be the next Facebook.’ More and more Twitter is playing a role in public discourse.”
A recent string of tweets on the rabbi’s feed were about the women’s march this past weekend. One read, “Does anyone else from the rally have that ‘I’m exhausted but kinda wanna do this again next week’ feeling?”
Stanton also spoke about improving Jewish/Muslim relations, and the role he feels Jews have to play in social justice.
“Every year on Passover, we as Jews are called to remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt, and many times we’re called to remember what it’s like to be a stranger,” he said. “My worry is, not just now, but for some time Muslims have been made to feel like outsiders. I find that my role as a rabbi, as a human being, is to care for my fellow person, so Muslims aren’t made to feel like outsiders. In my current job, I’m working with colleagues to launch a fellowship program for young Jewish and Muslim professionals to learn about social entrepreneurship and to organize and find common ground…. Making our society, our city, our country an even more wonderful place to live in. Muslims and Jews have so much in common, religiously and socially, and we should use that as a source of strength and to build bridges.”
In this effort, Stanton serves as a trustee of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. The Interfaith Youth Core has also recognized Stanton as a 2016 Germanacos Fellow for his work in Jewish-Muslim dialogue. He is also a co-founder and co-director of Tribe, an organization for Jewish people in their 20s and 30s.
Stanton didn’t always know he wanted to become a rabbi, though he found his calling in college, ironically through an Evangelical pastor.
“I was blessed to have a mentor as an undergraduate,” said Stanton, who attended Amherst College, and graduated magna cum laude. This would be Reverend Dr. Paul Sorrentino, the school’s director of religious and spiritual life, who one day asked Stanton if he ever thought about becoming a rabbi when seeing him at Hillel House, a campus Jewish organization.
“Interfaith collaboration has been a part of my life even before I was a rabbi,” quipped Stanton.
The decision to become a man of the cloth was then made “with a lot of mentoring and soul searching” and Stanton was ordained in 2013 from Hebrew Union College.
“I hope to continue that tradition,” he said, “of reaching across religious lines and realizing that our community must be a source of light not just for its members but a source of strength to the community.”