Rabbinate is a second career for Bnai Israels Goldenberg

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When Sidney Goldenberg finished his yeshiva training, he would have liked to pursue his Judaica studies even further.

But "I needed material things like air conditioning," the New York native recalls, "and enough money to send my children to college." So he opened a small computer business and settled into family life, though his yearnings continued.

Four years ago, however, at a time when he could easily have been contemplating retirement, Goldenberg embarked on an ambitious pursuit. His synagogue needed a part-time cantor, and Goldenberg — a loquacious tenor with an Orthodox background — took the job.

At the time, the synagogue was between rabbis. So "I started doing a lot more than I was asked to do," recalls Goldenberg, who was ordained at Tifereth Yisrael Rabbinical Yeshiva of Long Island, N.Y., "like reading Torah on Mondays and Thursdays." Congregants started approaching Goldenberg for advice on their problems.

It was such a nice feeling that he made a personal vow "to move to a small town and give this my all." As soon as his two children, now in their 20s, were on their own and self-sufficient, Goldenberg started sending resumes to congregations all over the United States and Canada.

When he got a call from Petaluma's Congregation B'nai Israel last March, "something clicked." The Conservative synagogue's search committee flew Goldenberg and his wife to California for the interview process. Goldenberg liked what he found.

For one thing, he says, "the weather was just wonderful."

He also relished the congregation's relatively small size. Nearly 100 families maintain active memberships, and Goldenberg realized at once that he "would like to get to know them."

He realized, too, that at last nothing stood between him and his long-cherished dream of becoming a rabbi. He pursued that dream and followed it through. He closed shop in New York and in July became B'nai Israel's full-time spiritual leader.

The congregation's president, Regina Wilson Seppa, feels that "it is a great match." Not only is the congregation fond of Goldenberg, but he also, Wilson Seppa says, "has good knowledge of Torah and the ability to read and sing."

Rabbi Goldenberg would like to draw 25 or 30 more families into the congregation. "The temple started out as a gathering place and I want to continue to welcome everyone," he says.

He also wants to start offering adult education courses as well as singles activities, and to help teenage congregants take more pride in Judaism and become more involved with synagogue life. In addition to hosting Friday-night dinners and Shabbat retreats, he envisions gearing Friday-night services toward young worshippers by adding more passages in English. He would also like to start Monday and Thursday prayer quorums.

The rabbi and his wife, Selma, have already been invited to many congregants' homes for dinner. Goldenberg is pleased to see how quickly "people here are becoming friends."

B'nai Israel's congregants "really care," he says, "and that is the greatest thing."