“As Jews we have something unique to contribute to this diversity.”
As I arrived at the Young Israel synagogue one recent rainy Tuesday morning, Rabbi Nesanal Lerman was bending over the brand-new Torah scroll, making sure that none of its assiduously hand-written letters were overlapping and thereby implying new meanings. The 37-year-old rabbi experienced a hectic start after being installed only three months ago in Sunnyside’s small orthodox Jewish community, which had been without a rabbi for several years.
“It’s been a little bit erratic up until now,” Rabbi Lerman admits as we sat in the basement of the apartment building that houses The Young Israel synagogue. A month ago the community celebrated the dedication of a new Torah with a joyful procession down 47th Street, Skillman Avenue and up 46th Street. This was followed by Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. In addition to all the professional duties that come with holiday celebrations, the rabbi and his wife Nechama care for two young children and a little baby girl who was born only two months ago. But enthusiastic and ambitious by nature, Lerman appears to thrive on challenges. He now plans to renovate the synagogue, which he proudly notes is the only one offering daily services in all of Western Queens. He also wants to create a Jewish daycare center for those congregants who wish to expose their children to a Jewish learning environment.
Raised in the orthodox community of Borrough Park, Brooklyn, Lerman lived in Jerusalem for the past eleven years, where he studied and helped establish a Jewish structure for its Anglo-Saxon population. He hopes that Sunnyside’s 20 observant orthodox Jewish member families will benefit from his intense and focused religious experience in Israel and that his presence will enrich the community as a whole.
“We were looking for a place where there is a diversity of culture and where we can contribute,” Rabbi Lerman says about Sunnyside. “As Jews we have something unique to contribute to this diversity.”
While he is still trying to read the map of his new territory—he considers finding out people’s needs and reaching out to fulfill them among his most important tasks—he relies on his two main philosophies, learning and believing. “The Torah says man’s created in the Godly image. There is so much that people can accomplish if they only believe. Every person has to look at himself as a deep text that they have to learn.”