New Rabbi Is Planning To Reach Out To 'Edges'

Posted: August 07, 1988

The Jewish community is like a jelly doughnut to Rabbi David Klatzker, the new leader of Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim.

"It's flaky on the edges," Klatzker said. "There are a number of people who are not committed."

"But as you get closer to the center, there's a lot of good stuff," he said. "There are a number of people who are deeply committed, and those people give me hope, give me the strength to carry on."

Klatzker, 37, began full-time duties this week at the synagogue. He

succeeded Rabbi Robert Layman, who now serves as the executive director of the Delaware Valley Region of the United Synagogues of America.

Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun has a congregation of about 320 families. It is considered a small congregation in the area, one reason that Klatzker was attracted to it. He said he liked the intimacy of the smaller group.

A native of Los Angeles, Klatzker moved to Philadelphia to study at Temple University, where he received both master's and doctorate degrees in religion.

Klatzker received his rabbincal ordination from the from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia and studied pastoral counseling at Philadelphia Psychiatric Center.

Klatzker taught rabbinics and Jewish history at Temple University and Gratz

College. He later served as an assistant to Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Klatzker also worked as associate rabbi for Temple B'nai Abraham in Livingston, N.J.

Klatzker is also interested in the plight of Soviet Jews who are trying to leave their country. He went the Soviet Union in 1985 and taught underground classes on Hebrew and Jewish history.

During the two-week trip, Klatzker was detained in Lithuania for calling on refusenik families.

The police "told us we would be expelled from the Soviet Union, which wasn't much of a threat," Klatzker said.

At the airport when Klatzker arrived, police confiscated the religious books and articles that he had purchased in the United States.

Klatzker worked as an academic liaison in New York for the Institute of Contemporary Jewry of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during the last year. In that job, he arranged international seminars and worked with Israeli professors.

Although he considered remaining in the academic world, Klatzker chose the pulpit.

"Students come and go," he said. "You never have a student for more than four years, and, on the whole, their commitment is lukewarm.

"While in a congregation, you get a chance to see people over a longer period of time and watch them develop."

Being a rabbi allows him to combine teaching, counseling and working for social action, he said.

Klatzker said one of his goals at the Springfield synagogue would be to reach out to the edges of the doughnut to people who don't know Jewish history or customs or Hebrew.

"It's a real challenge to get them interested," Klatzker said, because there are many Jews "who don't see the relevance of Jewish tradition in their lives."

However, he added, "It is true that in some cases, the tradition is dysfunctional, outdated." In many congregations, for example, women are not permitted to lead services or read from the Torah, he said.

At Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jershurun, men and women share all responsibilities, he said.

Another problem in attracting people back to the faith is overcoming an ''edifice complex," the image of lifeless large building lacking in spirituality, Klatzker said.

"They think of the boring, irrelevant suburban synagogues of their youths," he said. "They don't realize that a Jewish spiritually is possible, even here in the suburbs."

Klatzker said he was raised in such a synagogue but did not leave the faith

because he had role models in Jewish teachers and rabbis.

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