Eagerly walking into Temple Beth Zion, Rabbi Richard Polirer seems to be settling in with ease, after taking over the pulpit of the Royal Palm Beach congregation last month.
Flicking on the lights, he takes a seat at one of the chairs facing the bimah, the raised stage at the front of the sanctuary from where he now leads services.
With 25 years of studying and teaching from the pulpit, Polirer is eager to share his knowledge with the members of Temple Beth Zion.
“I want people to know me as a scholar, a speaker and as someone who is not only in love with all history but the English language and origins of what we as Americans and Jews do socially,” he said.
Polirer — who took over the congregation after the departure of Rabbi Bertram Kieffer earlier this year — foresees a promising future at Temple Beth Zion. “I look forward to a good relationship here and growth for the synagogue,” he said. “It is something that will give me nachas (happiness), as they say in Hebrew.”
Polirer recalled his days as a young boy in Brooklyn, N.Y., growing up around strong leaders and upholders of the faith. “I was born and raised in the synagogue,” he said.
It’s this deep-rooted connection that drew him to the pulpit. “I would always look up to the rabbi as the leader in the community,” he said. “I enjoyed leading the services and reading from the Torah, and I was privileged to have rabbis I listened to as a kid, to look up to.”
He had an influential religious upbringing, attending and serving at many congregations throughout New York City.
In his adolescence, Polirer attended Crown Heights Yeshiva and Yeshiva University High School for Boys.
In 1972, he received his bachelor’s degree in English and history at New York University, and went on to earn his master’s degree in history from Hofstra University on Long Island.
Polirer received his rabbinical degree in 1977. “I did it after I got my master’s at a place called Tiferes Yisrael, which was a small academy in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn,” he said.
Throughout his formal education, Polirer also gained professional experience as a Torah reader at Congregation Derech Emunah in Far Rockaway, N.Y., and at the Bell Park Jewish Center in Queens Village, N.Y.
After living most of his life in New York, Polirer moved to Fayetteville, N.C., in 1978. “Before that, I served for three years as an assistant rabbi in Howard Beach in Queens,” he said. “But my idea was always to go out and spread Judaism.”
Polirer attributes his attitudes toward spreading Judaism to his generation. “We wanted to go out like Jewish Johnny Appleseed and spread Judaism wherever there were Jews,” he said. “I come from that idealistic generation of the Jewish Peace Corps, I guess you might call it.”
After North Carolina, Polirer served 17 years with a temple in New Hampshire before moving to Florida in the late 1990s.
Polirer is grateful to have been given the opportunity to be the rabbi of a Conservative yet progressive shul. “This synagogue has longevity — it has been in the community for over 30 years,” he said. “It has its own building with its own history, and it is looking forward into the future.”
Temple Beth Zion, located at 129 Sparrow Drive in Royal Palm Beach, has been a stronghold in the local Jewish community since it opened in 1980. A full-service Conservative congregation, it has a Hebrew school, preschool and adult education program.
Polirer is not only bringing many years of experience to the pulpit, but he is also bringing something most rabbis don’t. “I’m pretty good at what I do in the pulpit, and I read from the scroll of the Torah, which most Rabbis don’t or can’t do,” he said. “It’s not taught in the curriculum; it’s a skill that I developed on my own.”
Polirer has also been trained as a cantor. “I chant the prayers. Most rabbis are not cantors,” he said. “I studied it under Cantor Bernard Beer at Yeshiva University, as a private student for three years.”
Polirer’s mission at Temple Beth Zion is to create a comfortable and open relationship with the members. “The important part that I see, which is the kernel of everything, is the worship service,” he said. “I want to create a worship atmosphere where people of all ages feel comfortable.”
Polirer’s focus is on being progressive, by incorporating English readings and chanting. He wants everyone in the faith to enjoy and relate to it — “so that it’s not just for people who knew about Judaism since they were 2 years old but for people who are even new to it or did not have a Jewish educational background,” he said.
Polirer is impressed with Temple Beth Zion’s youth programs. “They have a wonderful preschool and Hebrew school. I would like to reach out to them and to their parents by making them feel comfortable in this part of the building because they are housed in the other building over there,” he said pointing to the large double doors across the room.
Temple Beth Zion offers Shabbat services, which are warm and inviting, and include refreshments. Polirer is hoping that by expanding on these types of worship services, more people will feel welcome.
“It shouldn’t be something you come to when you have the good times that you’re celebrating or the sad times you’re observing, or the High Holy Days, which your parents drag you to,” Polirer said.
He does not want people to feel compelled to attend services; he wants them to feel good about it.
“I want people to feel, ‘when I come here I get a smile on my face.’ And when they leave here, they leave with an even bigger smile on their face,” Polirer said.
For more information, call (561) 798-8888 or visit www.templebethzion.net.