Rabbi Norman R. Patz became the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, New Jersey in the summer of 1969 and was named Rabbi Emeritus in June, 2006. Under his guidance, the congregation grew from 147 members to over 400 families living throughout the West Essex area; built a gem-like sanctuary and extended its school wing. The congregation became custodians of a Czech Holocaust Torah from Dvúr Králové, where, in 2008, at his initiative, the congregation in partnership with the municipality dedicated a monument to that destroyed Jewish community on the site of the demolished synagogue.
His ministry has always stressed Jewish “peoplehood” and strong engagement with Israel and Diaspora communities. He and his wife Naomi led many congregational trips to Israel and Jewish sites in Europe, and brought hundreds of confirmands to Israel for 6-7 week summer visits there and, more recently, to Prague and Amsterdam.
Rabbi Patz was an early and passionate activist for Soviet Jewry on both national and local levels, and he and Naomi traveled to the Soviet Union to visit refuseniks in 1985. His congregation sponsored and welcomed refusenik families into the congregation, and also helped a Laotian family, refugees from the war in Vietnam and Cambodia; find a secure home in our country.
Rabbi Patz’s liturgical style combines dignity and warmth and his strength as a teacher and pastor speaks to his belief in the vitality and centrality of Reform Judaism for our time. Siddur Netivot Sholom, the congregation’s prayer book created by Naomi Patz, reflects these values, as does Obligations of the Heart, a compilation of his High Holy Day sermons.
Among his past community involvements, Rabbi Patz has been National Chairman of the UJA Rabbinic Cabinet, Vice-Chair of the NJ State Commission on Holocaust Education, President (now President Emeritus) of the Society for the History of the Jews of Czechoslovakia, chair of the CCAR Israel Committee, chair of the Metropolitan NJ Conference on Soviet Jewry and of the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest, He was founding chairman of the MetroWest Holocaust Remembrance and Education Council and president of the New Jersey Association of Reform Rabbis. He also served as a trustee of the Newark Museum and a member of the board of the Cedar Grove Free Public Library. In the 1970s, he was head teacher of the New Jersey Extension Center of the HUC-JIR School of Education.
His student pulpits included one year with Temple Beth Or of the Deaf in New York and Temple Sholom of New Milford, which he served for three years.
Rabbi Patz holds adjunct positions at Montclair State University and Caldwell University.
Since his retirement from Temple Sholom of West Essex, he has been part of a rotation of retired Reform rabbis who serve Temple Beth Shalom of Puerto Rico, officiating there for the High Holy Days and for several months during the winter.
A native of Boston, Rabbi Patz received a B.A. cum laude from Harvard College; a Bachelor of Jewish Education from the Hebrew Teachers College, which included a semester’s study at the Hayyim Greenberg Institute in Jerusalem; a B.A. and, in 1965, an M.A. in Hebrew Literature and rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which awarded him a Doctor of Divinity degree in 1990.
After ordination, he became a chaplain in the United States Naval Reserve, first at the Fifth Naval District in Norfolk, Virginia, conducting services at the Commodore Levy Chapel on base and then with the Second Marine Division at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. After leaving active duty, he was the first assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, during that time also serving as a visiting chaplain at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, achieving the rank of lieutenant commander before leaving the Navy.
Rabbi and Naomi were married in 1962. Their daughter Deborah and her husband John have two daughters – Natasha and India, and their daughter Aviva and her husband Tripp also have two daughters – Sadie and Dahlia.