Beth El Congregation of Baltimore is getting ready to welcome its new executive director, Ben Wachstein, who will begin April 1 after a six-month search and the unanimous approval of Beth El’s board of directors.
Wachstein will bring nearly a decade’s worth of experience from his past work in senior-level positions at Jewish communal organizations. This includes nearly seven years as executive director of Temple Sinai in Dresher, Pa.
Wachstein expressed excitement about joining the Beth El team.
“What I see is a dedicated clergy that works tirelessly to connect with our congregants,” Wachstein said of Beth El. “I see a staff that has picked up all of the loose ends that we needed to pick up to transition from in-person everything to virtual everything. … And I see our membership really actively participating in all of the things that are being offered.”
Wachstein plans to begin his tenure at Beth El by meeting with staff and lay leaders and learning more about the strengths of his new team and community in order to plan and build around those strengths.
“Our goal was to bring on a leader who would continue the congregation’s remarkable momentum and propel our organization forward through the pandemic and beyond,” said Ed Mishner, congregation president, in a press release. “Ben will steward a continually evolving organization that is a pillar of the Baltimore Jewish community … and surround himself with incredibly committed lay leaders who have shaped Beth El and made it what it is today.”
Wachstein grew up in Collingswood, N.J. While the neighboring town of Cherry Hill had a strong Jewish community, he said, Collingswood was different.
“Very few Jews lived in Collingswood,” Wachstein said. “I grew up going to school with one other Jewish student in my class from second grade through high school.”
But Wachstein did grow up within walking distance of Cherry Hill’s Temple Emanuel. “I found my home there,” he said. “I was the weird kid who loved to go into Hebrew school every week because it just felt natural.”
In 2013, after leaving a position with a Jewish federation, Wachstein learned of an open position for an executive director at Beth El Temple in Harrisburg, Pa. On a whim, Wachstein applied for the opening. After the first interview, “I knew, almost immediately, that Beth El and I were a great fit,” he said. “It was an immediate love. It was clear that walking into a synagogue … and working there full time is what I am supposed to be doing.”
Wachstein heard about the opening at Beth El Congregation of Baltimore from a colleague. He felt compelled to apply due to his “interest in working for a synagogue that is at the leading edge of really understanding what the next generation of synagogues is going to have to do and be to sustain itself,” he said.
He also made note of The Soul Center, Beth El’s center for Jewish spirituality that offers a variety of programming.
“I’ve been following [Beth El’s] Soul Center since its launch, and I’ve been in awe of the work they do,” he said.
Wachstein is looking forward to bringing his unique way of thinking to the staff at Beth El. “I love playing the what if game,” he said. “And I love challenging the people around me to think differently.”