By Donna Newman
A Canadian-born rabbi with an extensive background in religious education and youth outreach is the new spiritual leader at Temple Isaiah, the Reform Jewish congregation in Stony Brook. Paul D. Sidlofsky comes to Long Island from Temple of Israel in Wilmington, North Carolina, the oldest Jewish congregation in that state. His worldview has been enhanced by the experience of residing in Canada, England, Israel and the United States.
Rabbi Sidlofsky says he found his calling early in life while attending a summer camp affiliated with the North American Reform movement. He said he met rabbis there “who led services, taught Hebrew and talked about being Jewish, but they also wore sneakers, played sports and told jokes. They were not only people to be admired, but role models to whom I could relate.”
Following graduation with honors from the University of Toronto, Sidlofsky pursued graduate studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as part of his rabbinical course. He was ordained in 1988 after completing training at Leo Baeck College in London and received a master’s in Jewish education from the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. Subsequently he earned a master’s in educational administration and a doctor of religious Jewish education.
“To me, a major role of the rabbi is to be a teacher,” Sidlofsky said. “This is central to my work and affects all aspects of it. I encourage congregants to pursue lifelong Jewish education. Informal interactions, counseling and sermons all provide teaching and learning opportunities.” As the “Rappin’ Rabbi” he likes to make his teaching fun, creating raps that give a unique spin to holy days, B’nai Mitzvah, and even the Torah.
In his prior position in Wilmington, as well as in previous congregations, the rabbi was an active participant in community and interfaith events, and he looks forward to those interactions on Long Island. One community outreach event he instituted, an Invite Your Neighbor service to welcome and inform non-Jewish members of the community about the temple and Judaism, was a success he hopes to replicate at Temple Isaiah.
Teamwork between clergy in a synagogue is crucial to creating a welcoming vibe. Rabbi and cantor must work together closely.
“Often,” said Cantor Marcey Wagner, “I spend more time with my rabbinic partner than with my spouse! That’s why I am so pleased with the choice of Rabbi Sidlofsky. He’s the kind of person I can partner with in a meaningful way. Together we’ll create the community environment here at Temple Isaiah that the congregation is thirsting for,” adding that she likes that he is open to new ideas, yet has a healthy respect for tradition as well. “When the rabbi/cantor relationship thrives, the congregation can feel it and the institution becomes stronger and healthier for it.”
Temple President Phyllis Sterne concurs that Temple Isaiah is on the right path with its new clergy team. “I look forward to growing our congregation and having it see good times and good health in the years ahead. I’m confident that Rabbi Sidlofsky will lead us into a bright future. We welcome not only the rabbi to our Temple family, but also his lovely and talented wife, Wendy, and caring and enthusiastic teenage son, Ben. Both will add immeasurably to our community.”
For information about Temple Isaiah, located at 1404 Stony Brook Road in Stony Brook, call the temple office at 631-751-8518 or visit www.tisbny.org