Rabbi Stuart Pollack, recently retired from a 21-year tenure at Har Sinai Temple in Pennington, was always there when his congregation needed him, during times of joy or sorrow, or for a friendly pat on the back. Faith, humility, and love for his community, and for pop culture, were what he shared as spiritual leader of the 200-family congregation.
“It was all an enjoyable experience for myself and my family,” said Pollack, the 26th rabbi to serve the 163-year-old temple. He was succeeded this month by Rabbi Jordan Goldson.
“Our congregation and community are special, and I welcome Rabbi Goldson with open arms,” Pollack said. “I know he’ll be quite an asset to Har Sinai.”
Pollack, a fan of music and TV, was notorious for throwing pop culture references into his sermons. “When I spoke of the Jewish understanding of marriage, I went through a list of pop icons. For instance, Paul McCartney was married to Linda for 35 years,” he told NJJN.
“To me, there was always something with pop culture or current events that could connect with what is depicted in the bible or the sedra of the week,” he said. “There are a lot of connections to events depicted in the Bible and what is going on currently, especially with laws, experiences, and decisions.”
Pollack, a resident of Lower Makefield Township, Pa., came to Har Sinai in 1999 from the former Temple Tifereth Israel in Malden, Mass. (It has since merged with another synagogue and is now Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody, Mass.) At the time, Har Sinai occupied its ornate sanctuary on Bellevue Avenue in Trenton, and Pollack oversaw the congregation’s 2007 move to suburban Pennington.
He was known for debating various interpretations of Reform theology with students of all ages, always displaying an open mind and a sense of humor.
“I never took a haughty approach, but always listened,” he said. “You can change your opinion.”
“I will miss the debates,” said congregant Peter Buchsbaum, a retired Hunterdon County superior court judge and resident of West Amwell. “There was always a scholar’s interpretation to discuss.”
Pollack, 68, taught at the Jewish Education Connection, Har Sinai’s inclusive education program, welcome to all families. The school’s philosophy is in line with Pollack’s open-hearted approach to interfaith families.
For Pollack, now Har Sinai’s rabbi emeritus, retirement already feels different from when he was leading a busy congregation. “At this time, I would always start to think about the High Holidays, but now it’s not my situation,” he said.
A native of Lansdale, Pa., Pollack decided to enter the Reform rabbinate while a college student at Penn State, where he was president of the Hillel. “I had decided to apply to the Jewish Theological Seminary, but after talking to my father, we decided I would be more comfortable as a Reform rabbi, so I applied, and was accepted,” he said.
He was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, then received his Master of Science in education and counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Pollack also participated in a divinity program at Harvard University and studied under Elie Wiesel at Boston University. He was an adjunct professor of Jewish studies at Tufts University.
“We’ll be staying in the area,” said Pollack, who now might find more time for some of his hobbies, such as screenwriting and listening to alternative rock, heavy metal, and other types of music. This fall he’s starting a master’s degree program in screenwriting at Drexel University.
He has been married for over 40 years to wife Robin, a learning consultant for the Hamilton School District. They have two grown sons, Max and Eli.
Pollack and Robin had hoped to travel, but the pandemic has curtailed those plans.
“There are places we wanted to go, to see my nieces in Israel and visit my son Eli in Houston, but Covid-19 has limited us and everybody.”