Wilmington's Temple of Israel Installs New Rabbi

Feb 15, 2012

Wilmington’s Temple of Israel, North Carolina’s oldest Jewish house of worship, recently installed its 18th rabbi since the congregation’s beginnings in 1876.

Amanda Greene with Wilmington Faith and Values attended the ceremony for Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky Friday night in a sanctuary packed with congregants and local and state officials.

Two hundred congregants are bustling into Temple of Israel’s sanctuary, chatting and laughing, while the organist warms up the pipes in the balcony.

The Temple’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky, smiles nervously, talking with two fellow rabbis as they stand in the Temple’s vestibule waiting for the ceremony. They shoulder three scarlet velvet-robed Torahs, which they carry into the sanctuary while the cantor and congregation sing in Hebrew.

One of the men carrying a three foot long scroll is Rabbi Brian Zimmerman from the Union for Reform Judaism. He leads the installation, giving insights about his longtime friend.

“A good rabbi is really a partner for the sacred partnership and task of leading and guiding and working with the Jewish community. Paul, Rabbi Sidlofsky is all these things.”

In the first months of his tenure, Sidlofsky has been busy beefing up the Temple’s Jewish school and seeing an almost 50 percent increase in attendance.

Templeof Israelhas also seen a 20 percent rise in its membership to about 170 congregants. Sidlofsky even plans to start a Jewish singles group for people 45 and older.

The new rabbi is a patient man, putting off his own installation for seven months to start some of his community initiatives. He is the third rabbi for the congregation in less than 10 years, but Temple president Melanie Frank says she believes Sidlofsky is a good fit.

 “He didn’t come in here and say we’ve got to change everything and do it my way. He wanted to learn what is your way, what is your way. And so we learned together. And that’s been fun. It’s been a partnership from the very very beginning.”

Sidlofsky came to Wilmington from serving at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington D.C. An idea man, Sidlofsky says his role of boosting congregational involvement is more about igniting a spark than being the flame.

As the two hour service comes to a close, each attendee greets Sidlofsky with handshakes and hugs. The group walks downstairs to break bread together, where Sidlofsky’s process of community building continues. 

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Copyright 2012
Reprinted with permission