Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen has been named head of the B’nai Tikvah Congregation in Westchester.
“Reb Jason,” as most people know him, is the synagogue’s new rabbi and cantor. His first week of services began in late August.
Educated at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, he has been a rabbi and cantor for nine years.
“I have always had a strong affinity for Judaism,” van Leeuwen said. “I felt a certain responsibility towards Judaism and like to gravitate towards Jewish leadership roles.”
As both rabbi and cantor, he leads the congregation in sacred worship and sacred song.
He is a musician who plays guitar and piano, has tenor training and recently self-produced the Shabbat Rocks compact disc.
He describes himself as “a product of the times” and hopes to strongly encourage the congregation to appreciate various arts, community service and civic affairs as much as he does.
He also loves to read books and his office at the synagogue is filled with books about Judaism and Jewish people.
“Rabbis can bring meaning to their people and should not reject Western culture,” he said. “Rabbis can come to terms with modern trends and reach people where they are. Trends outside of Judaism can help because they allow people to have different ways of looking at the tradition.”
He said pop artist Madonna’s widely reported interest in the Jewish mystical system of Cabala is not a detriment to Judaism, because the attention brings people to understand and experience the faith.
For the upcoming High Holy Days, he wants to give people the opportunity to “improve their immediate surroundings.”
Beginning with a Selichot Service Saturday, September 11th, and ending with Simchat Torah Friday, October 8th, the High Holy Days are a time when Jews can increase their spiritual connection to the universe and join a congregation if they do not already belong to one.
“This is the time of year for a lot of Jews to join a congregation or shul [place of worship],” Rabbi van Leeuwen said. “You can call it shul hopping. It is just exciting, a lovely time to be Jewish.”
B’nai Tikvah, a Conservative synagogue which counts approximately 130 households as members and has been in Westchester since the 1940s, has a variety of ongoing religious and educational activities for people of any generation.
“This is a friendly and fun congregation,” van Leeuwen said. “The congregation nourishes me as much as I nourish them.”
He says he was raised as a Conservative Jew and is the first rabbi or cantor in his family. He is married, has two children and lives in the San Fernando Valley.
Information, (310) 645-6262, or www.bnaitikvahcongregation.org