Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 18 February 2011 00:00
When people think of the auditions, the first image to come to mind is auditioning for a role in a performance. However, Rabbi David Ross Senter recently auditioned for a somewhat different role; the role of the spiritual leader of Manetto Hill Jewish Center (MHJC). After an in-depth “Rabbi Audition” process, MHJC chose Senter, a fourth-generation rabbi known for his warm and welcoming personality, to lead their synagogue. On Sunday morning, Feb. 13, synagogue members and leaders of the community welcomed Senter in a spirited Rabbi Installation Ceremony.
Senter, who doesn’t consider himself an Orthodox, Conservative or Reform rabbi, but rather an “Underconstructionist Jew,” was ordained as a Rabbi at Kol Yaakov Torah Center in Monsey, NY in 1985. In an unusual turn, he left the rabbinate in 1996 to establish the kosher concessions at Shea and Yankee Stadiums, bringing kosher food to baseball fans. However, after two years in business, he returned to the rabbinate. Rabbi Moshe Edelman, associate executive Director of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) METNY District, said he first took notice of Senter when he noted how respectful and gracious he was in his capacity as a caterer, not a rabbi.
Beginning the ceremony, MHJC First Vice-President Mark Hirsch thanked everyone on the Rabbi Search Committee, as well as others involved with the installation process, and introduced the Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School Choir, who added their voices to the proceedings. The choir performed renditions of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, and The Star Spangled-Banner.
Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto noted that, while he is Roman Catholic, he has two things in common with Senter: the fact that both had worked at Yankee Stadium (where Venditto worked for two summers in the ‘60s) and more importantly, their commitment to their communities. The supervisor presented a proclamation from the town to Senter, and invited the synagogue and its new rabbi to work together with the town in the future. “The best is yet to come,” concluded Venditto.
“This is a wonderful, wonderful congregation,” added Assemblyman Charles Lavine, who went on to say that Senter was a perfect fit for MHJC. He welcomed the rabbi not only as a Long Islander, he said, but as the president of the New York Chapter of Jewish Legislators. Rather than quoting the Old Testament, Lavine opted to coin a phrase from a somewhat more recent work- the film Casablanca- noting that Senter’s installation to the synagogue was “the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”
In addition to the praise of many elected officials and community leaders, Senter also received a more tangible gift: a volume of the Mishnah that had been used by his great-great-great-grandfather. Rabbi Edelman, who presented the gift, also shared some advice with Senter. “Always keep your hands open, to receive the blessings of this congregation,” he said.
For his part, Senter said that he was impressed by what the MHJC community had done both for Israel and locally before becoming their rabbi, and could not believe that he and his family had only been a part of the greater MHJC family for six months. He spoke of his desire to find a congregation with a strong sense of community above all else, a condition which MHJC satisfied. He also spoke of his enthusiasm to interact with the community, because rather than simply influencing a community, as a rabbi, “you must allow the congregation to have an impact on you.”
He also noted that while his wife Elissa might not seem like the traditional rebbetzen (rabbi’s wife) in some respects, she was in fact the “quintessential” rebbetzen.
Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs, who presented Senter with a proclamation during the ceremony, also praised the congregation for their passion and caring. After the ceremony, she complimented the contributions of the young singers. “The beautiful voices of the young performers added a touch of magic to this wonderfully, enriching experience. Clergy from surrounding churches and temples were also present to lend their support to Rabbi Senter. It was a wonderful occasion for everyone who attended,” said Jacobs.
In the closing Benediction, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis Joseph Potasnik summed up many people’s feelings about Senter with a simple pun; that while his name may be spelled with an S, he makes all the congregants feel like they are the “center” of attention.
For more information about Rabbi Senter and MHJC, visit mhjconline.org.