Press release from Rumson Country Day School
On Tuesday, April 8, students at Rumson Country Day School were treated to a visit by a special guest who also happens to be a former RCDS student in his own right — Rabbi Peter S. Berg. Now in his sixth year as The Temple’s Senior Rabbi in Atlanta, Georgia, Rabbi Berg has had an illustrious and multi-faceted career as a dynamic religious and community leader — one who embodies the RCDS core values Kind, Honest, Responsible, and Respectful — and in 2013, the Class of ’86 graduate was named one of the “Top 50 Rabbis” in the United States by Newsweek.
Founded over 150 years ago, “The Temple” is Atlanta’s oldest and largest synagogue, and one of American Judaism’s most famous institutions. The spiritual home to 1500 families, with six active clergy and two dozen full-time professional staff members, it also serves as a multi-generational educational center and social hub for its congregation.
The Temple, however, goes beyond these more traditional institutional roles by leading an additional “social justice” effort in the city of Atlanta; running an on-site facility for homeless couples, partnering with the Toomer Public School, and “swapping pulpits” with Ebenezer Baptist Church, for example. In recent years, it has also reached across the state of Georgia, organizing local, state, and Jewish leadership to join forces in combating the trafficking of minors. The Temple was also included in Newsweek Magazine’s current list of the “25 Most Vibrant Congregations in America.”
During a busy day on the RCDS campus, Rabbi Berg met with the Beginners (Kindergarten), stopped in to the 1st and 3rd grade classrooms, and attended two 7th grade History classes before heading to Upper School lunch in the RCDS Dining Room. In the afternoon, the Rabbi was a special guest at the Upper School Assembly, and spoke to grades fifth through eighth.
“It is always satisfying to have a former student come back to school and visit, but if the student is Rabbi Peter Berg, it becomes a real ‘WOW’ event!, remarked Head of Lower School Jayne Carmody. “Rabbi Berg was one of my first students, and sitting and talking to him at this stage in his stellar career as a Rabbi was a memorable experience.”
“As an adult, he is as kind, respectful and captivating as he was in third grade, but with an added dimension of knowledge of tolerance,” Carmody continued. “Working with the children, he not only modeled tolerance and acceptance, but also brought out those qualities in them. How refreshing!”
As Peter’s third pulpit (his first as Rabbi was at Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, NJ), The Temple’s long history in social action seems a perfect match for his interests and expertise. He’s served on numerous communal and advisory boards, including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. He’s also been involved in a wide range of advocacy groups addressing separation of church and state, civil rights, the death penalty, religious freedom, the environment, welfare reform, and hate crimes. Peter pursued an M.A. in Hebrew Literature and his rabbinic ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and Jerusalem, where he was a Steinhardt Fellow. He also holds a certificate in Chemical Dependency and Spiritual Counseling and is a trained Disaster, Fire, and Police Chaplain.
Despite his many accomplishments, this 42-year-old family man (he and wife Karen Kerness, a teacher and tutor, have three children) still has big dreams of creating what he calls “a culture of excellence…of doing things really well. An excellent congregation helps to transform people’s lives, through the powerful and moving experience of worship, through study, and through acts of loving kindness, working with the community to make this world a better place.”
“I haven’t been back to RCDS in more than 30 years and it feels so wonderful to be back home!” the Rabbi says. “My experiences here shaped my life in so many ways. I remember all of my teachers and I still think about what they said and what they taught me. I really love this school and I loved my teachers. I’m honored to give back to a school that has given me so much.”