Richard Address knew he wanted to become a rabbi as early as the 10th grade, after his confirmation ceremony at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. He recalled being in awe of the late rabbi and historian Bertram Korn.
Address went on to become a very different kind of religious leader, devoting much of his career to the Reform movement nationally, rather than presiding over a congregation. Now, after working for what's now known as the Union for Reform Judaism since 1978 — and, in the last 10 years, spending roughly three out of every four weekends visiting congregations around the country — the rabbi has returned to the pulpit full time.
In July, he assumed religious leadership of Congregation M'kor Shalom, a Reform Synagogue in Cherry Hill, N.J. It's the synagogue where Address and his family have been members and where he has taught for years.
"I like doing what I do, I wouldn't want to do anything else," said Address, referring to the span of his rabbinic career. "There are very few places where you get to change somebody's life. That is the reward."
The rabbi, who lives with his wife, Jane, in Woodbury, N.J., said his travels over the years have afforded him a grasp of the dramatic changes taking place within synagogues — certainly within the Reform movement.
"I call this the age of transition, everything is changing," he said. "It is a very exciting time; you can't do business as usual."
He said he would be working to create a greater sense of intimacy at the roughly 750 member-family M'Kor Shalom, both in terms of worship style and the communal experience. Congregations succeed or fail, he said, based on how well their members build relationships within the community and feel connected to a specific part as well as the whole.
In his past few years at the URJ, Address spent a great deal of time pushing synagogues to focus on the disproportionately high senior population in the Jewish community. Now, he plans to make the concept of sacred aging a major part of his rabbinate.
"I developed this idea while I was on the road," he said. "Now I'm going to have an opportunity to test it on my own congregation."
He's planning a center on Judaism, Health and Wellness that will organize programs on everything from end-of-life issues to the body image concerns of teenagers.
The notion of connecting emotional, physical and spiritual health should not only apply to older congregants but can benefit all synagogue members, he said.
"This all stems from Jewish tradition and the prayerbook," said Address. "All I'm trying to do is bring the values that we pray for every day in the prayerbook and the emotional and physical needs of congregants into harmony. Judaism is a holistic medical model; it understands that the mind, the body and the spirit are interconnected."
The Jewish Exponent is featuring new rabbis in the area. If you know of any other new rabbis, please contact Bryan Schwartzman at firstname.lastname@example.org.