U.S. Representative Mikie Sherrill, D, NJ-11, has named Rabbi Ariann Weitzman, associate rabbi and director of congregational learning at Bnai Keshet in Montclair, a 2021 NJ-11 Hero for inspiring her congregation and the larger community during the pandemic.
Sherrill announced the 2021 NJ-11 Hero program and asked for nominations last month to recognize members of the community who made a difference in her district. Weitzman joins a cast of everyday heroes—teachers, healthcare providers, first responders, family members, volunteers and other difference makers. “Our community is grateful for all their work,” Sherrill said.
Weitzman was an obvious choice, according to Bnai Keshet congregant, lay leader and friend Jessica Brater. “When many of us were lost in confusion, frustration, isolation and sadness, she boostered children and adults with belonging, support, love and a strong sense of identity, Brater wrote in support of her nomination (posted on the NJ-11 Hero page). “There is no question that she made a difference in the lives of our children and the entire congregation during the pandemic and she continues to do so today! We are so grateful for her guidance and leadership.”
Weitzman will receive a Congressional certificate recognizing Sherrill’s and the entire NJ-11 community’s gratitude. A passionate Jewish educator committed to innovative and intergenerational approaches to Jewish teaching and learning, Weitzman celebrated 10 years at Bnai Keshet last spring and was honored with a celebration and tributes from the entire congregation. Use this link to watch a recording of that show.
Brater said when the synagogue went into lockdown in March of 2020 Weitzman’s dedication to the children in the congregation was immediately evident by the feeling of community she created for the isolated children. She also filled in for Bnai Keshet’s senior rabbi, who was on sabbatical for a large portion of the pandemic, and balanced both jobs with grace.
Hebrew School moved to Zoom and Google Classroom with training and support for teachers. Teachers delivered learning material to students at their homes. Weitzman arranged for tents so that when safety and weather allowed, younger children, most challenged by online learning, could gather together in person. And she did all of this while homeschooling her own children during the 2020-21 school year.
“She continues to navigate the best course for our children, keeping students’ safety, mental and emotional health and social needs foremost,” Brater wrote. “Parents are confident when our children are in her care. She has regularly surveyed parents about our comfort level about gathering in person,”.
She also directs a robust program for our post bnai mitzvah students, as well as a series of popular education programs for adults. “Whether by Zoom or in a tent, around a campfire, or in Bnai Keshet’s sanctuary dissecting a sacred text, nothing keeps Rabbi Ariann from her appointed rounds: teaching, caring and leading all generations of our community,” Brater said.
A graduate of Case Western Reserve and Academy for Jewish Religion, Weitzman came to New Jersey in 2002 as a rabbinic intern at Congregation Beth Hativkah and later as a chaplain at Federation Plaza and Arden Courts in West Orange before becoming assistant rabbi and director of congregational learning at Bnai Keshet.