MURRAY HILL — A Murray Hill synagogue is extending a warm shalom to a new rabbi — the third to lead the congregation in its 53-year history.
Rabbi Joshua Plaut, 55, the executive director of the American Friends of the Rabin Medical Center of Israel, which raises money for one of the largest hospitals in Israel, has taken over as head of the Metropolitan Synagogue on East 35th Street between Park and Madison avenues.
The synagogue launched an extensive search to find Plaut, who will replace Rabbi Joel S. Goor, who was the Metropolitan Synagogue’s rabbi for 28 years before he died in December, explained Mary Silver, who has been a member of the synagogue for nearly two decades.
“I know [Rabbi Goor] would want us to go on and build,” Silver said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Plaut — who is going to be present for a formal meet-and-greet at the synagogue at 6 p.m. Friday — said he intends to turn the religious institution into a "vibrant community center" that serves its current congregants while also drawing future members.
The congregation, which touts itself as “a reform temple with a cozy, informal, family atmosphere,” currently has about 50 families as members, but plans to do outreach to attract more people from the pool of young families in the area.
“There’s sort of a lost generation of Jews in their 20s through their 40s who have not found a cultural and comfortable Jewish home,” said Plaut, who lives in Greenwich Village with his wife and 11-year-old son.
“I think they’ll be excited from what they see and hear, both religiously and culturally.”
Friday's event will also include a special performance by vocalist and Murray Hill resident Leah Tehrani, who will serve the synagogue as its artistic director.
Tehrani will take part in a series of upcoming events at the synagogue, including a performance at the Murray Hill Street Festival, on Park Avenue between East 34th and 40th streets, Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
The Metropolitan Synagogue will hold a "Summer Evening of Ladino Music and Balkan Jewish Culture” at 6 p.m. on June 15.
The so-called “Prince of Kosher Gospel” Joshua Nelson, whose music blends religious lyrics and American gospel, will perform live at the synagogue on Oct. 19.
“I think it's exciting to be able to experiment and engage in the urban renewal of a congregation in the heart of New York City — the greatest Jewish city outside of Israel,” noted Plaut, who will continue to work for the American Friends of the Rabin Medical Center while leading the Murray Hill synagogue.
“The congregation now is in transition.”
Plaut was born in Great Neck on Long Island but spent a quarter of his life living in Jerusalem. He holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Judaic studies from New York University and has led congregations in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Plaut is also an author, with a new book "A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish," due out this September, as well as a photographer who has documented Jewish communities in Turkey, Greece, Central Asia, in the southern part of the U.S. and on the Lower East Side.
Those images have appeared in museums and galleries across the country, he added.
For the Metropolitan Synagogue, those qualifications add up to an attractive package for a congregation in need of change, said Silver, who started attending services there when her 17-year-old daughter was an infant.
“When I think about it, 17 years ago, my family was the new blood,” Silver said.
“There’s so many kids now, so many families in Murray Hill,” she added. “[And] the young families are critical because they are the ones ... who want to introduce their children to the religion.”
The Metropolitan Synagogue, located at 40 E. 35th St., will be hosting a meet-and-greet with Rabbi Plaut at 6 p.m. on Fri., May 18. The evening will also feature a performance by vocalist Leah Tehrani. For more information, call 917-589-8799.