For only the second time in its 43-year history, Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners has a senior rabbi as its leader.
Before flying into New York from Israel at the end of June, Rabbi David Wilfond, who started the new role at the reform temple on July 1, was asked what hopeful message he might bring to the congregation in the midst of the world’s health crisis and fight for social justice.
"Hope, respect and inclusion” summed up his response.
“We, as a community can help one another get through this," said Rabbi Wilfond. "And we can help the larger community get through this, not by circling the wagons in fear, but by opening the tent wide — without judgment or criticism — just human acceptance of other humans in need.”
Rabbi Wilfond recalled the most repeated verse in the Torah (The Five Books of Moses), which says, "Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt."
"This is repeated 36 times," the rabbi stressed. "The sages ask why is this the most repeated verse in all of the Bible? In the eyes of the Torah, 'Caring for the stranger,' meaning the most powerless and most vulnerable in society, is a person's most important obligation.
“We need to ask ourselves when making decisions about social justice, ‘Will this deed bring us closer to or further from our sacred obligation to 'Love the stranger'? If we can answer with a full heart that a particular deed will bring us closer to 'Loving the stranger,' then we are probably growing in the right direction and should do it!"
The temple's congregation is excited to welcome a new rabbi.
“We are thrilled to welcome Rabbi Wilfond to our community," said Karen Spiegel, president, in a statement announcing his arrival last week. "Rabbi Wilfond will build on our strengths and expand our horizons through his recognized leadership, deep knowledge of Judaism and innovative ideas."
Wilfond, 55, a native of Edison, N.J., is a graduate of the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) Rabbinical Seminary, the University of Florida and Rutgers University and has served as the Rabbi for congregations in Kyiv (Ukraine), Wellesley (Massachusetts) and London (U.K). For the past 13 years, Rabbi Wilfond has held the position of Rabbi in Residence at the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical College, Jerusalem Campus in Israel. He also held positions at HUC-JIR in Jerusalem as director of admissions and at the Union for Reform Judaism as Director of Education for the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) in Israel.
“I am honored to be joining such a vibrant congregation characterized by a deep commitment to Jewish values and a powerful sense of community,” the rabbi said prior to his arrival in Bedford Corners.
On Thursday, July 9, Wilfond said he's felt "overjoyed" and "humbled" by the welcome for him and his family.
"From the first Shabbat service, it has felt very natural and comfortable to be in this community," Rabbi Wilfond said in a statement. "My wife Debby and our children have been overjoyed by the outpouring of welcome and love from the community. We're energized by people's excitement and at the same time, we're humbled by the beauty of the souls of our members as they've revealed them in telling us their personal stories and the communal story of the congregation."
Priorities for him include educational innovation, lifelong learning and inclusive programming.
Rabbi Wilfond succeeds Senior Rabbi Rabbi David Greenberg, who after 43 years of service will become Rabbi Emeritus this summer. Rabbi Jason Nevarez, who has served as a Rabbi at Temple Shaaray Tefila for 17 years, has accepted the position of Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in San Diego.
“Rabbi Wilfond is a man of integrity, a man of kindness and a man of significant Jewish learning,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “He is going to lead this congregation in a positive, fulfilling and Jewishly worthy direction.”
"Shaaray Tefila has been blessed with a consistency of leadership with one Senior Rabbi for 44 years but simultaneously has enjoyed the presence of many associate and assistant Rabbis during that time - and the community is accustomed to being welcoming. I have experienced the congregation's openness and willingness to accept us into the embrace of the congregation," said Rabbi Wilfond.
Located in Bedford Corners in Northern Westchester, Temple Shaaray Tefila is a Reform synagogue with a traditional spirit and a thriving Early Childhood Center and K-12 Religious School. Temple Shaaray Tefila serves more than 600 families in Bedford, Mount Kisco, Katonah, Chappaqua, Somers, Armonk and surrounding communities in New York and Connecticut.