By Yaffi Spodek
Issue of May 8, 2009 / 14 Iyar 5769
Rabbi Kalman Topp of the Young Israel of Woodmere will leave the community this summer to become the senior rabbi at California’s Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills.
After eight years at YIW, during which he moved up the ranks from assistant rabbi to rabbi, working alongside Rabbi Hershel Billet, Rabbi Topp says his family’s impending relocation is emotional.
“We are certainly moving with mixed feelings,” he told The Jewish Star.
“YIW is a wonderful community with many phenomenal people. The shul is always pulsating with tefilah, talmud Torah (Torah study), chesed, activism for the State of Israel and the people of Israel. In the time we’ve been here, we’ve created many strong relationships. There’s no question that I am going to miss all the members, learning with them, davening with them and sharing their life cycle events.”
The new position at Beth Jacob “was a great opportunity and one that we couldn’t pass up,” Rabbi Topp said, explaining his family's decision.
“Positions are hard to come by, and with our kids getting older, if we were going to make a move, we felt it needed to be now.”
Like YIW, Beth Jacob is a vibrant, thriving shul with a rich history, and is home to over 750 member families in the heart of Beverly Hills and the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles. The congregation has a diverse population, incorporating a Bnei Akiva branch as well as a Lakewood kollel, a unique mixture of people whom Rabbi Topp is excited to meet, while at the same time acknowledging the challenges he may face going forward.
“I will strive to present Torah in a way that touches all the diverse members and to present them with a vision and an ideal,” Rabbi Topp said, outlining his expectations for what lies ahead, “a vision that makes them better Jews, adds meaning to their lives and brings the people together to become a stronger community.”
Rabbi Topp will take with him fond memories of his tenure in Woodmere and of the relationships he shared with both colleagues and congregants.
"I have always tried to present Torah in a sophisticated and relevant way,” he noted. “I’ve always attempted to be warm, inclusive and open-minded. Instead of putting people down through mussar (rebuke), I’ve tried to raise people up by showing them what they are and what they could become.”
As for his personal legacy, “I’ll leave it to others and to Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d) to decide,” he said.
Members of the shul are sad to see Rabbi Topp and his family go, and feel it will be difficult to find a worthy successor.
“I think it's a bittersweet day for the Young Israel,” said Shlomo Zuller, the shul’s president. “While Rabbi Topp and Jordana are moving on to a nice community and the opportunity for Rabbi Topp to grow in his career, the YIW is going to have a big void that we are going to have to fill. Rabbi Topp accomplished so much, from his personal relationship with the members to running the adult education program to just serving as the rabbi in the shul; he was so beneficial to so many that he will definitely be missed.”
“As president of the shul, it really was an honor and a privilege to work with Rabbi Topp and see how much he did and how he did everything with a smile,” Zuller said.
Others offered similar praise.
“He is a young, innovative rabbi with very creative ideas," said long-time member Steve Wagner. "What is special about Rabbi Topp is that he has the ability to relate not only to the young married people closer to his own age, but also to the entire population of the YIW, which is a huge range. He will be sorely missed.”
“As a member of the search committee who convinced Rabbi Topp to come to the shul, I am particularly saddened by him leaving,” commented YIW member Jacob Weichholz. “He served a valuable function as rabbi and many of the members grew very close to him and relied on him for various rabbinic functions. As co-chair of the search committee to replace him, these are some big shoes to fill, but we will do our best and we wish him much luck in his new position.”
Rabbi Topp will assume his new responsibilities at Beth Jacob in August, and he is hoping for a smooth transition for his family and himself.
“We're hoping that the adjustment for the kids will be relatively easy,” he said, pointing out that although the family has minimal ties to the West Coast, the allure of warm weather and nearby Disneyland are good selling points. “Right now the kids are moderately excited ... but I’m not sure if they realize yet that they will actually have to go school in L.A.,” he added jokingly.
As senior rabbi, Rabbi Topp is to succeed Rabbi Steven Weil. He is relocating to New York to become executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.
At Beth Jacob, Rabbi Topp will work together with Associate Rabbi Marc Mandel and Assistant Rabbi Uri Pilichowski.
Although he will have “a talented rabbinical staff and great members” in his new home, Rabbi Topp said, he knows that his Young Israel of Woodmere family will always remain close to his heart.
“I’ve had the great privilege to work with an excellent staff,” he said.
“Firstly, I’ve had the unique privilege of working with and learning from Rabbi Billet and I thank him for that. I also want to thank Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt [assistant to the rabbi], Rabbi Joel Jerozolim, [Executive Director] Danny Frankel and the office staff, Paul Silverstein and President Shlomo Zuller and his administration.”
“We will cherish the memories,” Rabbi Topp added, “and Jordana and I hope to hear besurot tovot (good news) from the community.”