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Queens Chronicle

New rabbi proposes big changes at RPJC

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Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010 12:00 am

A new rabbi and Hebrew school director are spearheading new activities and educational programs at the 70-year-old Rego Park Jewish Center, a traditional conservative synagogue.

“A rabbi means teacher. Education is very important. ‘Above all learning,’” said Rabbi Sam Waidenbaum, quoting Jewish text.

The rabbi, who served upstate in Montebello and on Staten Island prior to becoming the center’s spiritual leader, said his new congregation has an unusual demand for knowledge — a rare characteristic, according to Waidenbaum.

“There is a hunger for learning at this synagogue and the study of Torah fulfills those needs,” he said. “I didn’t see it in previous congregations.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, Waidenbaum set out to become an ordained rabbi and cantor. He studied at Ponevitz Yeshiva in B’nai Brak, Israel, and the Boston Rabbinical Seminary before receiving his Ordination from Marbitzei Torah Institute in Brooklyn. Raised and educated in Brownsville, the rabbi studied voice for 15 years with the famous cantor, Avshalom Zfira.

He teaches classes in Jewish ethics, Jewish life cycle, and Bible and commentary. The center also hosts a women in Judaism class, taught by Cynthia Zalinsky, president of the Queens Jewish Community Council.

Under Waidenbaum’s guidance, the center also hosted a model Indian-Jewish wedding and an Indian-Jewish Hanukkah — both organized by Rego Park Jewish Center President Romiel Daniel, also president of the Indian Jewish Congregation.

The rabbi also wants to get seniors more involved at the center, citing plans to hire a social worker dedicated to issues affecting the elderly.

“Sitting home and not participating is not an option,” Waidenbaum said.

Their monthly singles dances for ages 45 and older attracts as many as 125 people from various religious backgrounds. Other activities — including monthly movies with Jewish themes, like an upcoming screening of “Chariots of Fire” on Feb. 7; a book club; Yiddish, Hebrew, and art classes; bingo; and Hadassah, Sisterhood and Men’s Club meetings — keep the synagogue humming with activity.

The center is also working to expand activities at its new Hebrew School. In September, the school re-started with 15 “enthusiastic, dedicated” children, said Jeffrey Kelman, the facility’s new director. He anticipates as many as 25 to 30 students in its second year.

Kelman divides his time teaching at the center, the Jewish Community Center in Harrison and Temple Beth Ami in Philadelphia. He has been a teacher since the ’70s and lives in New Rochelle.

According to Kelman, the school not only helps prepare the next generation to carry on Jewish traditions, but boosts attendance as well. Kids will often bring their parents to the synagogue, where they lead singing at the end of Saturday services.

The Rego Park Jewish Center is located at 97-30 Queens Blvd. For more information, call (718) 459-1000 or visit the center’s website at rpjc.org.

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