After more than a year-long search, Temple Zion welcomed a new spiritual leader last year. Rabbi Zalmen Hertz, 22, joined the congregation in February. Hertz, a Brooklyn native, said he has plenty of plans for the temple for the new year.
Hertz said the congregation consists of “wonderful people” from Long Beach and Atlantic Beach who are hands-on with much of the programs that the temple hosts.
“Everybody is involved — everyone does something,” Hertz said, describing a feeling of connection to the temple because of the group effort. “If you enjoy what you do, it’s not work.”
Temple Zion — which is run by volunteers — was founded in 1948 when a small group of locals saw a need for a synagogue in the West End, said Erika Prafder, the marketing and communications director for the temple. Today, the congregation consists of about 50 families.
“He’s young for a rabbi, but he has incredible energy,” Prafder said. Temple Zion’s previous rabbi, she added, left Long Beach to live in Israel.
“We’re very enthusiastic and excited about Rabbi Hertz. His energy is beyond our wildest dreams, which is really a blessing, and something we’ve wanted to work with for a long time. It’s not a heavily concentrated Jewish area, so having an identity and plan for growth is very important.”
Hertz, who was appointed last spring, leads a Bagel Lox Study program every Saturday where he explores different parts of prayer. The classes are followed by regular services and a luncheon, making for a packed day of programming, Prafder said. Participants are welcome to take part in lively discussions and ask questions, Hertz said.
“People should understand what they’re doing — they should understand what they’re saying, not just pray,” Hertz continued. “There’s more soul and meaning.”
Torah Time is another popular program that the temple hosts regularly, Prafder said. “We hold a meaningful life session where we discuss the purpose of the world, the challenges of Judaism, marriage commitment, education … All the answers to your ‘Why?’ questions.”
Hertz also leads family friendly events and youth programming, such as kids crafting events for Jewish holidays. He said he plans to launch more programs and events that focus on children and teens in the coming year. In July, the temple will host a Summer Shabbos program for children ages three and older.
“That’s the future of Judaism, and we want a future,” Hertz said.
He also noted the laid back and accepting attitudes of the people surrounding him.
“At Temple, you should let go of your problems. You should be entertained by spirituality, like seeing a movie, or going to a bar,” Hertz said. “You could really be entertained in temple — it’s very social, everyone feels comfortable and they’re very nonjudgmental. No one judges here. Everyone’s welcome and everyone feels at home.”
Temple Zion, which is located at 62 Maryland Ave., has only had three or four rabbis in its 70-year lifetime, Prafder said.
She also encouraged residents, whether or not they’re members of the temple, to take advantage of the shul’s catering hall for parties and special events.
Abraham Hall, as it’s titled, otherwise known as “Your Shul by the Sea,” serves as a catering space that could host Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, engagement parties and more, Prafder said. A generous member donated about a quarter of a million dollars to renovate the catering hall after it was damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“It’s state of the art now,” Prafder said. “The space is amazing, and what it did for us as a community was it brought in light from the inside out — literally there’s a lot more light, and it warmed us up and brought so much light to us as a community.”
Hertz also boasted the synagogue’s bar. “We use it every Shabbat after prayer,” he said, adding that the drink options include scotch, bourbon and whiskey.
“I’ve been to a lot of temples, where I’ve seen everyone judging, but over here, it’s so relaxed,” Hertz said. “It’s really not judgemental. You learn something in the morning about prayer and you’re going to feel at home.”