Rabbi Jordan Goldson will soon trade spicy jambalaya for New York-style bagels.
“I hear the [Princeton-Bucks] area has good bagels,” said Goldson, a Long Island native who told NJJN he craves the quality of bagels from his youth. “Cajun food in Louisiana is terrific for a weekend, but after having it available every day, I’m looking for a bit more of this area’s Jewish palate.”
Goldson, 60, is leaving Congregation B’nai Israel of Baton Rouge, La., to assume leadership of Har Sinai Temple in Pennington on July 1. In succeeding Rabbi Stuart Pollack, who is retiring after more than two decades in the position, Goldson will become the 27th spiritual leader in the Greater Trenton-area Reform congregation’s 163-year history.
Leading a 200-family congregation in the midst of a global pandemic presents unique challenges, but Goldson has some creative ideas of how to maintain a sense of community.
“My focus will be on creating new opportunities for us to engage with one another,” he said, citing social media as one example. “We envision a temple community where more people will come to connect with others and develop meaningful friendships while they celebrate Jewish life.”
Having served as spiritual leader of B’nai Israel for 11 years, Goldson and his wife of three years, Beth Warren, wanted to return to the New York area where both have family. He grew up in Smithtown, N.Y., and Warren in Bellmore, N.Y. She also works for Creative Realities, a Manhattan-based technology firm, to which she often commuted from Louisiana.
“This move will make it a lot easier for us,” said Goldson. “I will be close to the synagogue and Beth will be able, in normal times that is, to easily get the train to New York.”
Dr. Arnold Speert of Lawrence Township, a former president of William Paterson University in Wayne and the chairman of the synagogue’s search committee, told NJJN that the committee was impressed with Goldson when he visited the congregation in January.
“Rabbi Goldson was thoughtful and appreciated both our history and was excited about our future,” he said. “We felt he was what we needed to build on the leadership of Rabbi Pollack and lead us into our future.”
Speert added that the search committee was further swayed by Goldson’s comfort with technology; in Louisiana he’d been conducting classes by video conference.
Of the Har Sinai Temple community, Goldson said he enjoyed meeting “people who were passionate about their synagogue, community, and Reform Jewish life.” He values both the Jewish and non-Jewish members of a Reform congregation who “give their soul” to the temple. Also, the rabbi is active in interfaith work and told NJJN he is looking forward to joining Interfaith Caregivers of Mercer County, an organization which assists the home-bound elderly.
Goldson, who received ordination in 1987 from the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has seen synagogues change over the past three decades and noted that the coronavirus has forced further evolution.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, we built a model with large synagogues, similar programs built to fit all, supported by as many dues-paying members as we could attract,” he said. “Now we don’t know if that is what the next generation needs. We have to say, ‘This is what we have, how can we make it work for you?’ to that part of our community.”
Besides serving as rabbi, Goldson was also B’nai Israel’s cantor. “I’ve always been involved musically in the services where I’ve been,” he said. “I sing — but do not play an instrument — and really enjoy it. I will sing and accompany anyone at any service.”
Goldson has also come up with an efficient methodology for teaching Torah and haftorah trope to b’nei mitzvah students, using crash courses and online resources, in addition to traditional text study. “Within several weeks, these students will have it all,” he said.
His first pulpit was in Calgary, Alberta, where he served for 12 years. During his tenure there, he was president of the Canadian region of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairman of the Calgary Rabbinical Council. Later he took a break from the pulpit to serve as executive director of the Hillel at California State University in Northridge. He returned to synagogue life in 2004, joining Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale, Ariz., and five years later assumed his position in Baton Rouge.
“I missed the pulpit the years I was away,” he said.
Goldson and Warren plan to reside in the Princeton area. He has a daughter, Tali, who lives in Denver, and a son, Gabe, who resides in Los Angeles.
Even with his new gig being closer to home, he admits he will miss watching national champion Louisiana State University football and its former quarterback Joe Burrow, who was selected first overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2020 NFL draft, play. “He was something to watch,” said Goldson.
And despite his roots, he’s not ready to embrace tri-state area teams and their overall less-than-inspiring play during the years he was in Baton Rouge. “As a boy, the Mets, Jets, and Knicks were my teams,” he said. “What happened?”