After 16 years as a rabbi in Rhode Island, it wasn’t time for a change. At least Richard Perlman says he wasn’t thinking about packing the house and engaging in the difficult task of moving with his wife and two young daughters from Warwick to the North Shore. But life doesn’t always work out the way we plan, and even though he wasn’t looking for change, change was looking for him.
Rabbi Perlman was officiating a wedding in Rhode Island where the president of Temple Ner Tamid and his sister were in attendance last spring, he explained, “and they came over to me afterward and he said ‘Hi there, you’re a really good rabbi, we really like you. Would you consider applying to be the rabbi of our synagogue?”
That’s a nice thing to hear. But Perlman says he didn’t get excited until they told him they were from Peabody. “I grew up in United Synagogue Youth,” Perlman recalled telling them. “I was at Temple Ner Tamid all the time.”
Last week, Perlman and the family finished the move (“Moved in Yes… Unpacked? Never… Lol!” he said in an email exchange,) and the rabbi has been hard at work for a few weeks at Ner Tamid, even while moving. Being a rabbi is a career he’s been training for since he was a child.
“My father was Ivan Perlman, a very respected cantor,” Perlman offered proudly. “My oldest brother Eli is a rabbi in New Jersey, my brother Manny is a cantor at a large United Synagogue congregation in Baltimore, and my baby brother Josh is a cantor at B’Nai Israel in Rockville, Maryland.”
In other words, Rabbi Richard Perlman is in the family business. “Serving the Jewish community – and the secular community – is in our blood, it’s what we grew up with, it’s what we understand.” explained Pearlman. “When someone calls and says ‘we’re in the hospital,’ we drop what we’re doing, we go. When someone’s dealing with a loss, the rabbi understands these things better than anyone, because we live it day in and day out.”
Perlman says it’s this human part of being a rabbi that he finds the most gratifying. “The pastoral part comes at 2 a.m., when someone is dealing with their real and honest truth. I’m always there for those people if it’s humanly possible, and everyone gets treated with equal importance and equal respect.”
But the rabbi also enjoys his role as a teacher and mentor, something he sees as a critical part of growing a synagogue in times when growth can be hard to find. “I like teaching, and I like teaching people of all different walks of life, people of all different levels. But I especially enjoy teaching children and making a difference in their lives.”
Programs for children are an important element of keeping synagogues a vital part of the Jewish community, according to Perlman. “The parents who have not been connected for so long,” said Perlman, “are getting a 101 version of Judaism, and they’re not embarrassed by it at all.”
“And hopefully when they grow up they remember that rabbi with whom they developed a wonderful relationship,” said Perlman.
So the rabbi wasn’t looking for change, but when it came knocking, he accepted the challenge. Why? “I knew that this congregation has been a very well respected one in the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.” When he met with them, Perlman says he was intrigued by the desire they expressed for strong leadership. “But when they explained to me that their key requirement was that they find someone who would be able to attract children and young families, well, that was me.”
“I believe we need to try new techniques to turn people on and get people re-connected to a synagogue,” said Perlman. And while the moving boxes may have to wait forever to be unpacked at home, he says he’s taking speedy steps to growing the congregation. “That’s what I am working to do, and that’s what Ner Tamid is asking me to do. “