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Rabbi Flicker’s B’nai Israel based on volunteerism

Rabbi Arthur FlickerBorn and raised in Columbus Ohio, Rabbi Arthur Flicker received an undergraduate degree in history from Northwestern University and an MA in Jewish history from Ohio State University.

In 1990, Flicker was ordained by Rabbi and Professor Rueben Lukens of Florida who taught at Harvard Divinity School. Rabbi Flicker served at congregations in Texas and Ohio.

He became the rabbi at B’nai Israel, a Conservative congregation in Albuquerque, in 2005. He is married to Linda and they have two boys, Aaron and Ben.

RABBI Flicker knew that he wanted to become a rabbi when he felt the comfort that his own rabbi’s presence brought to his congregation in Ohio. He aspired to be the leader that the community turns to in times of need and decided to combine this desire with his love for educating and study to become a rabbi.

A family business owner and public school teacher, Flicker’s career change brought him to Tiferet Israel in Columbus in 2001, where he served as the assistant rabbi before moving to Albuquerque.

Flicker and his family quickly fell in love with New Mexico.

Flicker is the only full-time staff member at his synagogue. Volunteers hold all other positions. Flicker hopes to inspire the younger generation to find the value behind the sense of community and the path to G-d that he believes is the gift of Jewish life.

Q: Why did you decide to change your career and become a rabbi?

A: There had been a regional rabbinic conference in Ohio that I helped organize and I really enjoyed the classes and wanted to do more learning.

I also had an experience while I was in Ohio where there had been a tragedy in the community and I went to offer my condolences. When the rabbi came in, I saw this relief in everyone’s faces that came with his presence. I decided I wanted to be that guy.

Q: Tell us about B’nai Israel.

A: B’nai Israel is the only Conservative synagogue in all of New Mexico. We maintain a kosher kitchen, we have holiday services in which we observe two days for the major holidays and we have a morning minyan twice a week. In addition to the regular Hebrew school, we have a Sunday school, a men’s club and a sisterhood.

We are an overwhelmingly volunteer run organization — I am the only full time, paid staff. We have no cantor, secretaries, educators. We get by on the bare minimum,

Thanks to about 50-60 volunteers, people come in to answer the phones, put together newsletters, organize morning minyans, teach the schools and classes.

There is a significant core of people for whom maintaining a traditional Conservative home is very important and so they are willing to put their effort into making sure that happens.

New Mexico is a poor state; we don’t have the money to take care of every project. If we want it, people have to step up and do it, and they do.

We also stand out for our devotion to bring opportunities to young people to participate in Jewish life, particularly on the bimah. We have teens that lead High Holiday services and on Shabbat —  we have a tremendous emphasis on encouraging young people to get involved in their Jewish lives.

Q: Why teens?

A: Having teens participate regularly shows them that Jewish life in the synagogue is not over after the Bar or Bat Mitzvah or that Jewish life isn’t just in school once a week or just a confirmation.

If they are going to be involved in Judaism in adulthood, seeds need to be planted.

Jewish life is found in the synagogue and in the home. We can’t control the home but we can control the synagogue.

Q: What do you want for your congregation?

A: I want to make Judaism meaningful and exciting to them, I want to try and be there for them at important times, hospital and hospice. And I want to try to create an environment that is appealing to young families who come to us because they’re interested in Conservative Judaism.

Q: What makes being a rabbi in Albuquerque difficult?

A: I think the most difficult part is the affiliation in our community. Albuquerque is very small and as a result, our resources for Jewish life are very limited.

On the other hand, those who are affiliated are more willing to come together to make it work for everyone else. That convergence does not exist in many other communities.

Our small size and limited resources push us to overlook our divergence in religious perspective and come together for the sake of making these events more meaningful, beautiful and Jewish for those who care to be part of the affiliated community.

Q: If there were one thing you could change about your congregation, what would it be?

A: I’d love to have more young families in the congregation. My first job was a schoolteacher; I love to inspire kids and young people about Judaism.

Q: Why do you do your work?

A: I do it because I want to. My congregation is the future of the Jewish people. We all know the intermarriage statistics; a huge per- centage of Jews don’t affiliate with the Jewish community at all.  It is bad for the community and it is bad for them — they don’t have a community, tradition or faith to fall back upon when they encounter difficult times.

Sooner or later, everybody encounters those challenges and needs those foundations to fall back on.

Q: Who are your role models?

A: I was very fortunate growing up. I had a rabbi, cantor and educator: Rabbi Nathan Zellzer, Cantor Stanley Burstein and Saul Walchs.

They just had a dramatic effect on Jewish life for teens my age.

Back in the ‘60’s in Columbus, they inspired many of my peers to become either professionally or voluntarily involved in Jewish life.

That laid the foundation for Jewish life for me.

They touched my life in very positive ways. Hopefully, I can do that for others and continue to pass the torch.

Q: What is the value behind Judaism that is so important?

A: Judaism is more then a faith, it’s a way of life that provides a beautiful wonderful path to G-d and a beautiful moral path to a caring, giving, sharing life.

When you put on tefilin, you bind yourself to G-d in a way that no other religion has. It’s like G-d wrapping his arms around you. We are the ones with the oldest religion — the beliefs that people have been living and dying for for thousands of years. I want people to find that and a sense of family and community in their practice.

Q: What scares you most about the Jewish world today?

A: The stridency and arrogance of some of the Orthodox leaders and the significant lack of affiliation —it’s a huge problem here and everywhere else. There are so many people left out and that needs to be addressed.

Like everyone else, there also is the financial issue. It is tough to offer programs to do things without the money with which to do them.

Q: What do you do about these fears?

A: Here, we try to meet and do programs together.

We invite leadership from the entire community and encourage affiliation and participation, keeping the doors open. In the end, people will make their own choices while we do what we can.

Q: What do you like to speak about on the bimah most?

A: Jewish values — how we incorporate Torah’s lessons into living a moral life.

Q: What quality makes you stand out among other rabbis?

A: My business background gives me a practical perspective on life.  There aren’t many rabbis who have had to meet a payroll or get everything done when half the employees don’t show up.

My business experience has taught me practical life lessons that I use every day and that I didn’t get when studying to be a rabbi.

Q: What keeps you going?

A: When people say “thank you” and when kids reply, “yes” when I ask if they will do something.

I have a group of post-confirmation kids who come to my house once a month to keep studying and that is incredible.

Q: What is your favorite parsha?

A: Parshat Bereshit, because it gets us started and there is so much content in those stories.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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