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Merrick Jewish Centre welcomes new assistant rabbi

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On Aug. 1, the Merrick Jewish Centre welcomed its new assistant rabbi, Jack Dermer. According to Centre officials, Dermer “hit the ground running,” with a moving Shabbat at the Beach, and an enthusiastic turnout at his welcome Shabbat dinner.

“Rabbi Jack Dermer will bring to our congregation his great passion for Judaism, his heartfelt desire to be a wonderful rabbi, his love for our Torah and tradition and his very warm and friendly personality,” said Rabbi Charles Klein, in April. “I am taken by his exuberance, his enthusiasm and his excitement about serving as our assistant rabbi.”

Dermer is a native of Fort Myers, Fla., and a graduate of Brandeis University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He said that despite how proud he has always been of his Jewish identity, he also embraces the faith’s tradition of encouraging tough questions.

“It helps me relate to skeptics or atheists who want to connect with Judaism, but may not be sure how or why,” Dermer said.

Music has always been Dermer’s passion, and he said that some of his first “spiritual teachers” were jazz greats like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

“I visualize their music while praying, and even think about the Jewish prayer book as our written melody, flowing from our hearts toward the heavens,” Dermer said.

Dermer plans to use his love and knowledge of music to energize young people, with Jewish sing-alongs, Havdalah jam sessions after Shabbat, and even a Jewish Centre rock band.

“I want to be the kind of rabbi I might’ve needed growing up, who hangs out with families at museums and basketball games, hosts big Shabbat parties with signing and board games, who is just a text or a Facebook message away,” he said. “I’m simply looking to build relationships based on kindness and friendship.”

Dermer also believes that Judaism and Torah are “big enough for everyone” — he hopes to help people in every stage of their faith journey to “find their Jewish voice, and empower them to develop it.”

Dermer said that his favorite Jewish holiday is Channukah — “And not just because I’m a champion dreidel spinner,” he said. “I love the idea that one candle can provide light, hope and inspiration during the darkest time of the year.”

And, if Dermer had only one sermon he could give, he said that the subject would be self-compassion.

“In the Facebook and Photoshop age, it’s easy to compare ourselves to others, or to hold unrealistic standards of perfection,” he said. “That’s a recipe for trouble. Let’s have a little more TLC, and give ourselves a break when we fall short. Hopefully, from that place of compassion, we can continue to grow into our best selves.”

Klein said, in April, that he hoped that the Jewish Centre’s second search for an assistant rabbi would be its last.

“I am looking forward to the years ahead working with Rabbi Jack Dermer,” he said. “A wonderful new chapter in the history of the Merrick Jewish Centre is about to begin.”