By Jane Cohen
Special to the TJP
For the first time in 32 years, Beth-El Congregation, the Reform Jewish synagogue in Fort Worth serving Tarrant County, will install a new spiritual leader, Rabbi Brian Zimmerman, during an activity-filled installation weekend, Dec. 9-11, that is open to the community. Rabbi Zimmerman is the 13th rabbi to lead the 114-year-old congregation.
Zimmerman took over rabbinical duties July 1 from longtime Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger following Rabbi Mecklenburger’s retirement. Weekend activities will include a special Friday night installation service, unique Saturday morning worship options with guest speakers and study sessions that continue Sunday morning.
“As excited and overwhelmed as I am about a Friday night in which my father, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, my family, my friends and my congregation install me, I am equally excited about a special learning day we are offering all Shabbat day for congregants and community. These special learning opportunities represent what I really want my rabbinate at Beth-El to symbolize,” says Brian Zimmerman, a 12th-generation rabbi who was ordained at the Hebrew Union College in New York City in 1993.
Saturday activities include a Torah session with Sheldon Zimmerman, a special yoga Shabbat experience with Rabbi Danny Burkeman, an exploration of the meaning of Shabbat through text, film and television with Micol Zimmerman from Hebrew Union College and a discussion on Open Orthodoxy and a changing and challenging American Jewish landscape with Rabbi Asher Lopatin. Sunday, Sheldon Zimmerman will explore “ah-ha moments” and a new way to look at Torah.
Before leading Beth-El Congregation, Brian Zimmerman was the regional rabbinic director for the South District of the Union for Reform Judaism and served clergy and congregations in an 11-state district comprising 195 congregations. He was the rabbi at Congregation Beth Am in Tampa, Florida, from 1999 to 2006, and the assistant rabbi at Congregation Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, from 1993 to 1999.
Through his temple classes and other outside commitments, Zimmerman merges his two passions — Judaism and film, the latter of which he studied at Boston University. He has served as co-chair of Cinema Emanu-El in Dallas, a major summer Jewish film festival that attracts more than 2,000 attendees, and was chair of Film Procurement for the Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival. He enjoys teaching classes that explore religious themes in American films.
Zimmerman has served on boards and on numerous committees, including as vice president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas and president of the Tampa Rabbinical Association. In 2015, he was featured as one of Tablet magazine’s “15 American Rabbis You Haven’t Heard Of, But Should.”
“As Jewish leaders, we must constantly challenge ourselves to make Judaism joyous, meaningful and transformative,” says Rabbi Zimmerman. “Above all, our synagogues must be safe places for sacred conversations.”
His ongoing interests include all things youth group, Bruce Springsteen, scary movies and conversations about God, although not necessarily in that order. He lives in Fort Worth with his wife, Mimi, and two children, Saul and Molly.
— Submitted by Jane Cohen