Spotlight House of Worship: Tepperman named Human Rights Hero
By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
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Montclair rabbis are winning awards for their intellect and social justice efforts.
Rabbi David Greenstein of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, a conservative synagogue, was the recent recipient of the Daniel Jeremy Silver Fellowship from the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University, an award presented to a rabbi who demonstrates exceptional intellectual and academic ability in the pursuit of Jewish scholarship.
Now Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet, a Reconstructionist Synagogue, has been named the Rabbinic Human Rights Hero by the T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
The T'ruah is a national organization that does work to help protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories by the voices of the rabbis and the power of the Jewish community. Tepperman was notified in early November of 2018 that the committee decided to honor him with the award.
Though he modestly said, “I don’t even know what I did to earn this award,” the organization honored him for his social justice efforts, which include work to stop gun violence, support LGBTQ rights and create a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
Tepperman is past president of the Montclair Clergy Association and currently serves on the executive committee of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association as first vice president.
Montclair resident Craig Levine, a longtime Bnai Keshet board member and past president from 2011 to 2013, nominated the rabbi. The nomination was seconded by congregants Roberta Elliott and Richard Freedman. “When I saw the solicitation for nomination, I thought of Elliott immediately. The award was written for him. Working with human rights and social justice are right in his rabbinate before he was a rabbi,” Levine said.
Levine said Tepperman leads by moral example to engage in all social justice issues. “He walks the walk,” he said.
The award is very meaningful to Tepperman, who said the support of his congregation is a signal that they want a leader that does this kind of work.
The 2019 awards were presented at a gala held on May 22 at the Prince George Ballroom in New York City. Rabbi Jocee Hudson of Temple Israel of Hollywood, in California, also received the Rabbinic Human Rights Hero award.
Tepperman was particularly moved to see 30 members of his synagogue present. The Bnai Keshet congregation has 275 member households. “The congregation is deeply involved with ongoing work to make New Jersey a state to embrace marriage equality,” he said.
Tepperman joined Bnai Keshet in 2002. Over the years, he has sought opportunities to work on social justice.
One of those opportunities was participating in the Montclair Sanctuary Alliance, founded in 2017 by Bnai Keshet, First Congregational Church and The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair. In conjunction with the MSA, Bnai Keshet in 2018 completed the renovation of the third floor of Red Gables Sanctuary, a building on its property that was its original home, to host undocumented immigrants.
“We are still a sanctuary congregation prepared to offer sanctuary to individuals that are facing deportation,” Tepperman said.
Bnai Keshet is willing to escort immigrants to meetings with ICE (Immigrants and Customs Enforcement), and has a rapid response team for those suddenly arrested. Tepperman is currently organizing to build the sanctuary movement in this state with Faith in New Jersey, a multifaith network of leaders and congregations.
The rabbi and his congregation have worked with other communities on affordable housing and community policing, and are currently working with congregations throughout Essex County and in Paterson in Passaic County. “We developed strong interfaith relationships with the Islamic Center of Essex County. We showed up there when their community could use the support as an ally,” he said.
But, Tepperman said, there is always more work to do on the social justice front. “Preserving human rights, or protesting democratic institutions working in opposition to racism. We sadly live in a world where there isn’t a lack of opportunities to protect human rights and dignity.”
Recently, members of Bnai Keshet visited the Essex County Correctional Facility on Doremus Avenue in Newark to make sure immigrant detainees are treated fairly, Tepperman said.
He and the congregation are working on forming groups to combat anti-Semitism and racism.
“I believe the spiritual practice and religious life demands that we take action when we leave the confines of our spiritual home,” he said.
99 South Fullerton Ave.
Friday Minyan: 7:30 a.m.
Shabbat Study: 9 a.m.
Shabbat Services: 10 a.m.-noon
Kabbalat Shabbat: scheduled once a month.
Kaplan alternative Shabbat minyan: scheduled once a month. Check website for times.
Congregation size: 275 households