Rabbi Scott Rosenberg was still in high school when he felt a calling to the rabbinate. Now, after a three-decade-long career in which he has led congregations in Houston, Boston and Ottawa, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native has arrived on the Main Line to lead Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley.
“My approach to the rabbinate is trying to understand and appreciate people where they are and respectfully engage them in thoughtful opportunities to grow,” said Rosenberg, a married father of three grown children.
“And that could include music, meditation. That could include study, that could include a panoply of options that are available to us today,” said the graduate of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. “Making our faith accessible and meaningful to us is critical to me as a rabbi.”
In 1989, Rosenberg was certified as a specialist in Jewish divorce and for years he has served on the Beit Din of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative movement’s religious adjudication body that examines issues of personal status, including divorce. That work, he said, has increased his sensitivity in dealing with congregants.
“Every time you interact with someone in both times of joy and times of challenge, you have the opportunity to grow,” he said.
He is taking over a large and high-profile congregation that, like many Conservative synagogues across the country, has seen its membership decrease considerably over the past decade; in this case, it is down from its peak of about 1,500 families to about 900 families today. The rabbi said his chief concern is not bolstering numbers, but creating meaningful experiences.
A great deal of attention was brought upon the congregation in 2002 with the publication’s of Stephen Fried’s book The New Rabbi.
The book, which wasn’t well received by many in the shul because they felt it aired dirty laundry and played up disagreements among members, provided an inside look at the congregation’s soul-searching process of replacing Rabbi Gerald Wolpe, their venerated leader for 30 years who retired in 1999 and died a decade later.
After an interim period, Rabbi Jay Stein led the congregation for eight years before leaving last summer. He now works for the Jewish federation in New York.
Rosenberg said his take on The New Rabbi is that “it offers one perspective of a community at a very different time in the life of its community. I’ve not found it representative of the Har Zion I am growing to know.”
For now, Rosenberg, who moved with his wife, Amy Goldman, said he’s working on getting to know the synagogue and the Philadelphia Jewish community and gaining a sense of what needs to be done to move forward.
“Understanding how the changes in the world have impacted the Jewish community, and how changes in the Jewish community have impacted the Jewish institutions that have been pillars in the community is something that is of great importance to me,” he said.
“We, as Jewish leaders, have an obligation to work together and find a path toward renewal and find growth that has respect for people where they are.”