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The Big Jewcy: Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum of the Greenpoint Shul in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Maurice Appelbaum wasn’t always certain he wanted to be a rabbi, but he knew he wanted to be a teacher and a psychologist while incorporating his passion for Judaism. "I put the three together and it equals rabbi," he said. But that’s just the short answer. "It was just something that it took me a long time to realize but it was something that I felt like I needed to do and I wanted to do." Not only did he choose to become a rabbi, he also chose to become a rabbi at a truly unique and historic synagogue: The Greenpoint Shul in Brooklyn.

Erected in 1903, Greenpoint Shul has always been an Orthodox shul, and one of four in the neighborhood, but as the other three shut their doors, it has taken the challenge of catering to a broader religious community in stride. Appelbaum said his goal is to "create a community that can hold everyone at the same time, which is a challenge, but a beautiful challenge to have." Not only is the shul involved in reaching out to all sorts of Jews, but Rabbi Appelbaum is also committed to "working together to solve the problem of poverty, homelessness and feeding the poor," working in tandem with the Greenpoint Islamic Center and a local church. The shul’s involvement in the soup kitchen is really hands-on, too-community members plant crops in their garden and harvest them for use at the soup kitchen, and Appelbaum says it’s a great way of "reconnecting with nature, which is a value within Judaism."

More than anything, he invites people to come out and "be active in our community. I want to expand the role of the shul beyond more than just prayer. If doesn’t have to only be prayer. If we engage people and give them the opportunity, they may take [us] up on something that’s not prayer." To that end, he encourages those who might be intimidated by services to come to other programs the shul puts on instead, and to engage in personal conversations with the rabbi himself and others in the community, to build strong relationships.

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