Rabbi Marc Kline, the new religious leader of Monmouth Reform Temple, doesn’t find it at all strange that he used to teach Christian ministerial students.
Kline, 54, who comes to the Tinton Falls synagogue following 11 years at Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, Ky., points out that the skills required for counseling, chaplaincy, consoling, and celebrating are the same in all faiths.
“I taught a course in pastoral care and diverse world cultural worship at Disciples of Christ Lexington Theological Seminary,” Kline told NJJN in a phone interview. “I also taught Jewish-Christian relations at Transylvania University, Jewish thought and culture at the University of Kentucky, and religion at Eastern Kentucky University.”
In his new role, Kline said, he plans to stay active in interfaith activities. “My role as a rabbi calls for me to implement and facilitate an exchange of learning among all the people in my community,” he said.
But that is just one aspect of his plan to embrace the successes and face the new challenges of a congregation that made history by being the first to be led by a female rabbi. In fact, he said, Rabbi Sally J. Priesand was among those who inspired his decision to become a rabbi.
“I was working as an attorney in Little Rock and considering a change in my career,” said Kline. “I spoke with my rabbi, Gene Levy, and he immediately gave me the names of 10 or more rabbis who had inspired him. Sally’s was one of those names.”
Priesand is still a member of MRT and its rabbi emerita, following her retirement in 2006. Kline said that he has had several good conversations with her and respects her experience of 25 years in the job he now holds.
In addition to Priesand, Kline said he and his family were welcomed into the community by Cantor Gabrielle Clissold, with whom he will be tutoring bar and bat mitzva students; Jay Wiesenfeld, MRT’s president; and the synagogue’s executive committee, staff, and members.
Wiesenfeld praised the work of the search committee. “The cochairs, Zach Gilstein, our first vice president, and Bob St. Lifer, a longtime active member and former president of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, did a great job,” he said.
Wiesenfeld also thanked Rabbi Robert Ourach for his year of service as interim rabbi.
“He did everything we expected of him and more, and we wish him well at his next interim position in Great Barrington, Mass.,” said Wiesenfeld.
Kline assumed his new pulpit on July 1and led his first Shabbat service at MRT on July 4.
“My wife and I were awed by the turnout, and I enjoyed my collaboration on the bima with Cantor Clissold,” he said.
Kline is married to Lori Bernard, a researcher and educator who will soon be teaching at MRT. His first wife, Cindy, died in 2008. Between them, Kline and Bernard have seven children, six of whom are adults dispersed all over the country, from Lexington to Miami, and Cincinnati to Chapel Hill, NC. Their youngest daughter, Rachel, 14, will enter Red Bank Regional High School as a freshman this fall.
In addition to his other roles, Kline professed a commitment to social justice. In Kentucky he served as chair of the Lexington Fayette County Urban Government Human Rights Commission and co-led a march on Columbia, SC, in 2000 to protest the Confederate Battle Flag atop the Statehouse dome.
He also served on the board of directors of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA), where he was involved in pluralism and the peace process in Israel.
“I see my job as helping congregants to achieve deeper relationships with each other, with all human beings, and with Torah,” he told NJJN. “Each person should be able to see himself as making a relevant difference to the community and the world.”