ALAMEDA -- From its 1920 founding to its present Bay Farm Island location, Temple Israel has served generations of Alameda's Jewish residents while becoming a community institution.
This weekend, the synagogue takes another historic step when it celebrates the installation of Rabbi Barnett Brickner as its new leader.
Brickner's installation, the first in 17 years at Temple Israel, will take place at Friday's shabbat evening service at 7:30 p.m. Rabbi Joe Black will officially install Brickner, a longtime friend.
"(Brickner) is a passionate, caring leader, someone who believes strongly in the Hebrew saying 'tikkun olam,' 'repairing the world,' " Black said by telephone from Denver, where he is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel, one of the largest Jewish congregations in the country. "He in infused with a strong push in helping make the world a better place. He is gregarious and sensitive to others' pain."
Ordained in 1987 at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City, Brickner's roots in Reform Judaism run deep, as his grandfather and father were rabbis. Brickner's own credentials within the Reform movement also are extensive. These include service on the advisory board of the National Federation of Temple Youth and as a member of the National Commission on Social Action.
In addition, Brickner has served large and small congregations across the country. Most recently, Brickner and his family lived in Columbus, Ohio, where he served as chaplain at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. But that wasn't all. While in Ohio, he also served as a part-time rabbi for a small congregation in Lima, some two hours northwest of Columbus. Brickner now brings the same qualities that have served him so well to Temple Israel.
"One of the things I've said to the congregation since I've started is that my drive and my vision is to have Temple Israel be a model of excellence," he said. "We want to create an intimate and spiritually driven congregation, to be the Jewish center of Alameda that brings meaningful and lively religious experiences (to its people)."
In addition to building relationships within Temple Israel, Brickner also seeks to develop stronger bonds within the wider Alameda community.
"It's good to become known as a caring community, a giving community and a compassionate community," he said, "that (Temple Israel) personifies Judaism at its best."
Despite previously living in a state capital and home to a major university, Brickner has adjusted quickly to Alameda life.
"It's great; I just love it," Brickner said. "I've lived in big cities like St. Louis, Columbus and New York City. Alameda is a small city, but we're surrounded by fantastic culture -- UC Berkeley, Stanford, San Francisco and San Jose are not far away. It's pretty ideal."
Brickner's adaptability already has served him well at Temple Israel, where on July 1, he took over for Rabbi Alan Bennett, who had served the synagogue for 16 years before retiring in late June.
"(Rabbi Brickner) is definitely very well received," said Kimberlee MacVicar, co-chair of Temple Israel's installation weekend celebration. "There's a buzz of excitement. Attendance at services is up, and there's a lot of volunteering. There's an atmosphere of support for him."
Brickner acknowledges that support.
"They're a great bunch of people, very caring; they have received me and my family with open arms," said Brickner, who lives in Alameda with wife Erin, a registered nurse, who recently began a job with Sutter Health. The couple has four children. The youngest, Sam, is 17 and attends Encinal High School. Alex, 24, works as an accountant in Chicago. Kyle, 23, lives in Alameda, and 22-year-old daughter Eve lives in Israel, where she teaches English.
Though Brickner is now in his eighth month at Temple Israel, installations traditionally are not rushed into either by the rabbi or the congregation. In Brickner's case, September held perhaps some potential, though the High Holy Days were a major focus at that time. Mostly, he just needed to get to better know the congregation. And the congregation needed time to get to know Brickner.
Brickner, for his part, has done much outreach. As a rabbi, he emphasizes pastoral care and Jewish education. To the latter end, one Saturday morning each month, Temple Israel celebrates Tot Shabbat, a religious service for preschoolers.
"That we are able to bring 25 to 30 children and their families here says a lot about our congregation," Brickner said.
But that is not all.
"We had 75 people at a shabbat Seder, too (in January)," Brickner said. "There's a need here."
Brickner has settled nicely into Alameda. And Temple Israel congregants have taken well to him.
"The people here are creative, bright and visionary," Brickner said. "I feel very, very blessed to be here. I feel this is the right congregation for me and, thank God, they saw that in me, too -- that I'm the right rabbi for them."
6 p.m.: Special Shabbat dinner (tickets required)
7:30 p.m.: Shabbat evening service and installation of Rabbi Barnett Brickner by Rabbi Joe Black; Oneg Shabbat to follow the service
9:30 a.m.: Torah study
10:30 a.m.: Shabbat morning service
Noon: Kiddush lunch
6 p.m.: VIP reception for sponsors
8 p.m.: Musical concert featuring Rabbi Joe Black (tickets required)
10:30 a.m.: PJ Library co-sponsors a Young Childrens's Book Reading featuring Rabbi Joe Black and his PJ Library book, "Boker Tov! Good Morning!"
Tickets: for the special dinner -- $36 for adults, $18 for children; for the concert -- $36 for adults