Rabbi Ben Levy
Rabbi Benjamin Levy knew at age 11 that he wanted to be a Rabbi, but it took some decades and a career change or two before he found his way to the pulpit.
Levy taught emotionally disturbed students at Livingston High School on the Upper West Side in Manhattan for five years. He also worked as a disc jockey at the “oldies night” of an Upper East Side club, where he met his wife, Evelyn. However, he never forgot his old dream.
In 2015, he celebrated his 18th year as rabbi here fulfilling his dream with a congregation that shares his vision.
“I was very attracted to this congregation initially because it had been my dream to be rabbi of a small, friendly, closely knit synagogue and this has always been a tightly knit, friendly place that has a lot of volunteers,” said Levy. “It has been my pleasure to share Jewish life with a congregation that really wants to explore Jewish life and immerse itself in what it means to share holy time and community.”
Under his leadership, the Reform synagogue has maintained a steady membership, completed an expansion about 15 years ago that doubled its size, and has made improvements to its bima and sanctuary, including the addition of stained-glass windows.
The former Monroe Township Jewish Center added the Etz Chaim, or “Tree of Life,” to its name because of the Rabbi’s belief that shuls should have a Hebrew name.
Levy, who grew up in Queens and Spring Valley, NY said his family was not religious. Nevertheless, he said, he always felt a connection to Judaism and knew early on he would become a rabbi. He "begged" his parents to send him to yeshiva.
“They couldn’t understand where that came from,” said Levy.
His parents relented, and he attended the Hebrew Institure of Rockland County, then in Monsey, NY and the Orthodox Mesivta Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Queens.
Levy temporarily abandoned his rabbinical dream, earning a bachelor’s degree in drama from New York University and a master’s in secondary special education from Hunter College of the City University of New York. He became a teacher but finally decided to earn his rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he would earn another master’s in Hebrew letters. He is currently working on a doctorate in midrash and scriptural interpretation at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary.
His multi-denominational background, he said, "has opened up a lot of pathways for me in terms of understanding spirituality and Torah."
Levy taught religious school at synagogues in New York City and served a rabbinical internship at the Community Temple Beth Ohr in Brooklyn before taking a position at Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester County in Chappaqua, NY.
He and Evelyn have two sons, Eli and Reuven.
"Many people join a shul and then tend to leave after their children become bar and bat mitzva, but that is not the case with us because we have so many activities and relationships with people that they become attached to us," said Levy.
“If we could attract more people that would be great, but if we only deepen our commitment to mitzvot and Torah learning, I will have fulfilled my mission. I see us as becoming a beacon of light for liberal Judaism in Middlesex County, spreading God’s light and kindness.”