Jewish community of Merrick-Bellmore embarks on new era with Rabbi Joshua Dorsch


Though Senior Rabbi Joshua Dorsch began his journey as the spiritual leader of the Merrick Jewish Centre last summer, he was officially installed last Saturday in a ceremony full of love, laughter, memories and hope at the synagogue.

His arrival signaled the end of an era for the MJC, after Rabbi Emeritus Charles A. Klein retired in October 2021, after 43 years at the temple — in which Klein was credited for redefining the religious, social and cultural dynamics of the Jewish community in Merrick-Bellmore.

The center’s sanctuary, and street, were renamed in Klein’s honor.

The ceremony explored the synagogue’s past and present, and was well attended by dozens of congregants, Klein, Dorsch’s family members and friends, former Assistant Rabbi Ravid Tilles, and local elected leaders, who have had long partnerships with the temple.

Dorsch, 37, completed extensive schooling at the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies at Columbia University, and Columbia itself, before attending the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He first worked at the Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle, where he met his wife, Stephanie.

Not long afterward, they decided to move across the country to California, so Dorsch could lead the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego.

Three children and one pandemic later, the Dorsches decided to come back to the East Coast, he told the Herald, to be closer to family. The opening at the MJC was both exciting and intriguing to them, and now Dorsch and his family are happy to have finally found a permanent home in Merrick.

“This moment is a beautiful moment, and this is a holy moment,” Dorsch said at the ceremony. “I just want to offer my gratitude to everybody here tonight — to the Merrick Jewish Centre — for your faith in me.”

Dorsch thanked his friends and family — especially Stephanie — as well as the installation committee, including co-chairs Sharyn and Steven Kussin, Naomi and Matthew Knee, and members Donna Bartolomeo, Raymond Cohen, Rena Cohen Kozin, Phyllis Goldberg, Marilyn Hochhauser, Jon Schwartz, Allison Sussman and Howard Tiegel, whose collective efforts made the evening possible.

Klein said that as Dorsch’s tenure at the MJC has begun, they have become good friends, catching up on everything from synagogue life to their own personal lives, when they find the time. “He’s talented,” Klein said of Dorsch. “He’s creative, he is pathologically optimistic — he is deeply devoted to this congregation.

“Rabbi Dorsch, this congregation is precious to me — it really is, you know that,” Klein went on, speaking directly to Dorsch at Saturday’s ceremony. “This synagogue is my life’s work, and it’s yours to lead, to uplift, and to make certain that you give to them the teachings of our God, the God of the people of Israel, the God of the whole world. I offer you my friendship, occasional wisdom, but most of all, my great blessings. Mazel tov.”

State Sen. Steve Rhoads said that in all his years of knowing and working with Klein, he often commended him, saying the work of religious leaders is “vastly more important” than the work of the government.

“I may have the opportunity to be a leader in government, but (Rabbi Klein) had, just as Rabbi Dorsch has, the opportunity now to be a spiritual leader in our community, and that is so much more important,” Rhoads said. “I’m very much looking forward to working with you, Rabbi, to being partners in moving our community forward. Know that we are always here for you, and for this congregation and for our community.

“Thank you for stepping up to the challenge to lead us in this critical time,” Rhoads added. “God bless you, and God bless this congregation.”

Reflecting on the occasion, Rabbi Dorsch said that as he learns and supports the community through good and bad times, he wants the congregation to have patience, and understand that he is human, just like them.

“I have big dreams for my rabbinate, I have dreams for my family, I have dreams for all of us at the Merrick Jewish Centre,” he said. “In my dream, our synagogue is a place in which we encounter the profound nature of our traditions as can be embraced through our contemporary experiences.

“All people who enter our synagogue are welcomed with acceptance and open arms, regardless of their ethnicity, sexual identity, abilities or religious background,” Dorsch added. “In my dream, our synagogue is a place in which every human being is treated as if they are created in the image of God, and everyone is cared for as they are.”

He added that he hoped the synagogue would learn and grow, embrace a 21st-century Jewish identity and become what he says it has the potential to be: a kinder, just and compassionate place.

“We need to dream big,” Dorsch said in closing. “And may we have the wisdom, the strength and the courage to put in the efforts, to put in the time to invest our energy — propelling all of our dreams into fruition. Thank you for the honor of serving as your rabbi — thank you for creating holy community together. The future is now, and we’re just getting started.”