Andy Bachman is the kind of mensch who invited me to his home to join his robust and welcoming seder some years ago when I revealed I had nowhere to go that night. At the Mount Carmel Cemetery, where he led Vox Tablet producer Julie Subrin and me on a tour of the final resting spots of the illustrious deceased for a High Holiday podcast, he spoke passionately and with deep knowledge about historical figures in New York City and about how Judaism deals with death and renewal. When I ran into him last weekend along Prospect Park West with his youngest daughter and their pooch, Nathan, he was able to tell me exactly what was going on with the eviction notices being delivered to the residents of a nearby senior citizens home.
Bachman, a longtime friend of Tablet, is the beloved senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. But he won’t be for long. Earlier this week, he announced on his blog that he will not seek renewal of his contract when it comes due next year. He will step down from his pulpit at the end of June 2015.
Ever enthusiastic and engaged in the vitality of his community, his neighbors, and his city, he will move on to new challenges with an admirable list of accomplishments. Here is a small sample of them: doubling the synagogue’s membership; co-producing a prestigious reading series with the Brooklyn Public Library and Community Bookstore; administering a tutoring program for underprivileged students with John Jay High School; and providing meals to the neediest victims of Hurricane Sandy.
That last initiative got Bachman thinking about the future as his 50thbirthday loomed.
“The experience of helping communities in need after Sandy brought me back to question I asked myself in college, that is: public service in the Jewish community or the broader community? Sandy relit that fire for me and I started asking myself questions about what that would mean to go into direct service with communities in need in the city,” he told me over the phone. “I’ve always been a person who is interested in thinking about what’s possible, not just what is.”
It was in the Golan Heights on his birthday that he saw more clearly how malleable his future still is, and that 50 is yet young.
“There have got to be a few more adventures out there. I want to go after some new adventures and I have no idea what they are but I want to do them with the same focus and intention that I did when I was 20 and wanted to be a rabbi.”
Known to be politically active and outspoken, Bachman says his desire to go into public service is not code for a becoming an elected official.
“The pulpit is a pretty all-consuming position, and so would be running for office. It’s not something I’d be interested in,” he said. “I love serving people directly, and I have young children and I want to be close to home and watch them grow and help them grow.”
We wish him all the best and look forward to the next great chapter.