More than 100 people gathered at Temple Emanu-El of Long Beach on March 4 for a meet-and-greet dessert party to welcome a new rabbi to the community.
Rabbi Jack Zanerhaft, 60, who was born in Queens and raised in Brooklyn, lived in Oklahoma for 30 years, where he served as an assistant district attorney and was an adjunct professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law.
Zanerhaft has ties to the Long Beach community through family members who live in the area and said the temple has welcomed him with open arms.
“It’s been terrific,” Zanerhaft said. “The welcome has been beyond my imagination in terms of a genuine, welcoming, friendly, embracing attitude — of not just the Temple Emanu-El family — but the Long Beach family as well.”
Although he first joined the temple in early January, the dessert party — which was catered by the Long Beach Bagel Café — was an effort to reach out to the larger community.
The casual open house was held “to get to know various members of the community within our membership and outside of our membership, and we were able to achieve that goal,” he said. “It was a very personal, warm and neighborly gathering.”
He was drawn to Temple Emanu-El because his sister, Fran Zanerhaft-Roemer, of Island Park, told him that her temple was in need of a new full-time rabbi. He had led holiday services during Passover and said he connected with congregation and temple members.
“The more I was here, the more it felt right for both sides of the equation,” Zanerhaft said. “It was comfortable, warm and welcoming. The congregation felt like I was the right person at the right time.”
The temple hosts programs that emphasize social activism, interfaith dialogue and community and civic betterment.
“We’re emerging as a leader in community relations and building bridges with other faiths and all peoples from diverse backgrounds,” he said. “We’re really making an effort to reach out to all denominations and to be a leader and a good neighbor in the Long Beach community.”
On, Feb. 24, Temple Emanu-El held a gospel Shabbat to celebrate Black History Month.
“Our goal is to make the Jewish community a place of transformation and betterment, but the Long Beach community as well,” he said. “We want to be the best possible neighbor and truly be a lighthouse and lantern of transformation and positive change.”
Zanerhaft is happy to be living near his sister and his nephew, Jason Blass, in Oceanside. He also has a son, Jaron, a student at the University of California, Berkeley.
“It’s like living in a small town where everybody knows each other,” he said about the city. “It’s really a very nice place to be — I’m quickly finding that out.”