Joint Jewish Education Program selects Rabbi Larry Freedman as new director

Joint Jewish Education Program selects Rabbi Larry Freedman as new director

Rabbi returns to Pittsburgh

Rabbi Larry Freedman, Temple Beth Jacob. I am Orange portrait. ERIK GLIEDMAN/Times Herald-Record
Rabbi Larry Freedman, Temple Beth Jacob. I am Orange portrait. ERIK GLIEDMAN/Times Herald-Record

Rabbi Larry Freedman has been selected as the new director of the Joint Jewish Education Program. J-JEP is a partnership between Congregation Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom Congregation for students K-7. Freedman replaces Liron Lipinsky, who left the program last August for an opportunity with BBYO.

Freedman, who was chosen after a national search, will begin his tenure on July 15. According to Rabbi Aaron Bisno, senior rabbi at Rodef Shalom, the search was conducted by a committee “comprised of parents, administrators, rabbis and the leadership of both congregations.”

Previously, Freedman served as rabbi at Temple Beth Jacob in Newburgh, New York, for 11 years.

Congregation Beth Shalom Senior Rabbi Seth Adelson felt it of “utmost importance” to find a director that would be able to “continue and strengthen J-JEP’s commitment to experiential education, the program’s hallmark. We also looked for the ability to attract and guide the best teachers, as well as an educational presence that would inspire both in the classroom and out.”

“I think that Jewish education is one of the great challenges in the Jewish community,” Freedman said. “Those of us involved with it, the adults, feel this great connection to it. The challenge is: How do you share that with the next generation who are not keyed in the same way to the old country? Their options of what to connect to are far greater than their parents.”

He noted that Jewish education now competes with other interests. “With sports and other clubs and activities, there’s more available to these children that adds value and meaning and richness to their lives. My job is to help the teachers craft a program that shows why there is value and meaning and richness in their lives through a connection with our heritage.”

Bisno felt it important that the new director understand the need “to bridge the congregations and the Reform and Conservative movements.” Freedman views this as an opportunity to “use the best of both worlds. I think nobody beats Reform Jews in terms of understanding how Torah can make the world a better place. Nobody beats Conservative Jews in showing how Jewish ritual can make your life richer in the modern world. I know those are clichés but I think there is a lot of truth behind them. I’m hoping we can take the best of both movements and what they can teach us and bring it to all of the students.”

Although there are differences between the two movements, “J-JEP does not teach Reform or Conservative Judaism,” Adelson noted. “It teaches Judaism. Rabbi Freedman is sensitive to this and I am confidant that he will effectively bridge the gaps where necessary.”

Parental involvement is important to Freedman. He plans to meet with parents as soon as possible. “We’ll organize meetings. The program is good, but they always want to make it better.”

How the program changes is still undecided but he suggests the possibility of growing it past grade seven. Adelson mentioned “an eye to reaching out to other congregations in the future.”

While Freedman is new to J-JEP, he is not new to Pittsburgh, having served as an associate rabbi-educator at Temple Sinai from 1991 to 2006. “I’m very excited about coming back to Pittsburgh, as is my wife, Deborah. We lived in Pittsburgh for 10 years. We love the city, love the Jewish community.”
The couple have two children, Ethan and Lev. “We have friends who were raising young children while we raised ours. That’s a lovely bond with which to reconnect.”

Finding a director with a Pittsburgh connection wasn’t a requirement, said Bisno, but “it was a bonus.”

“When we had the opportunity to meet with Freedman and welcome him back to Pittsburgh, it was a slam dunk.”

“Beth Shalom is very optimistic about the future of J-JEP, led by the experienced and capable Larry Freedman,” Adelson said. “I am tremendously optimistic that, as the J-JEP program enters its eighth year, it will continue its unique and innovative path to imparting the wisdom of our tradition to our children, making it relevant and enjoyable to all who enter. Rabbi Freedman’s presence will bring new inspiration, raising J-JEP to new heights of success.”
For his part, Freedman said, “I’m very excited to grow the program and work with the whole community.” pjc

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@

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