Michael Weisser has been the rabbi and spiritual leader of the Free Synagogue of Flushing (FSF) since September 2008. His focus on the Jewish value of “welcoming the stranger” continues Free Synagogue’s tradition of embracing freedom, diversity, and its surrounding community. Rabbi Weisser also has participated in the planning and execution of the Queens Unity Walk, which brings together people of various faiths for a day of learning. He is currently involved in the creation of an interfaith council that will serve the ethnically and religiously diverse borough of Queens. Recently, Rabbi Weisser was among those chosen to deliver an invocation at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Interfaith Breakfast.
Prior to his arrival at the FSF, upon his return from a rabbinic posting in New Zealand, Rabbi Weisser taught spirituality and meditation in Nebraska. In New Zealand, he served as Rabbi of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Auckland. Previously, he served the Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Lincoln, Nebraska for many years, and he taught in the Philosophy and Religion Department of the Nebraska Wesleyan University for 11 years. One of his courses, entitled “Christian & Jewish Heritage,” was one of the most popular elective courses offered at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
During Rabbi Weisser’s service in Nebraska, the Grand Dragon of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan threatened him and his family. The rabbi’s response was to reach out to the one behind the threats. He ultimately befriended the klansman and was instrumental in his change from a life of hate and bigotry to one of love, tolerance, non-harmful behavior, and conversion to Judaism. The book, Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman was written about these events by Kathryn Watterson. The University of Nebraska Press is reissuing the book in 2012.
Rabbi Weisser studied at the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion and the Rabbinical Academy of America – both in New York City. He is ordained as a Rabbi and Cantor and certified as an educator. Rabbi Weisser has been actively involved in interfaith activities for many years and has received numerous awards for his work in this area. Among the many awards he has received are:
• Person of the Year -- Lincoln Interfaith Council
• Man of the Year -- ACLU Nebraska
• Ecumenical Person of the Year -- United Methodist Church, Nebraska Annual Conference
• Person of the Year – NAACP Nebraska
• Honorary Doctorate -- Hebrew Union College in recognition of interfaith & interethnic work
• The Government of New Zealand -- Official delegate at the “Dialogue for Religious Harmony and Cooperation”
• Yogyakarta, Indonesia Citation for Interfaith Understanding -- Consul General of Indonesia
• National Peacemaker -- Pax Christi (to be awarded 05/2012)
Cantor Steven Pearlston began his tenure at the Free Synagogue of Flushing (FSF) in 1973, at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. Cantor Pearlston has served as Principal of the FSF Religious School, and prepares the synagogues' students for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah services. He also teaches adult education courses in Jewish history and Hebrew language and provides the commentary for Brotherhood's "Lunch and a Movie" series. He has been cited by both the City and the State of New York for his service to the community.
Cantor Pearlston’s program, "What is Jewish Music?" has been presented at synagogues throughout the United States. He has performed several world premieres of compositions on Jewish themes at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York, as well as the New York premier of "Gimpel the Fool" at the 92nd Street YMHA Jewish Opera Series. He appeared as tenor soloist in Leonard Bernstein's Hebrew "Chichester Psalms" with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Cantor Pearlston is the composer of a complete Shabbat Evening Service and of arrangements of traditional liturgical melodies. His cd, "The Synagogue Music of Frederick Piket" is distributed by the Union For Reform Judaism.
For several seasons, Cantor Pearlston worked with the Lincoln Center Arts in the Schools program, which introduced classical music to students in New York City High Schools. He also conducted master classes at Queensborough Community College. The Cantor served on the music faculties at State University of New York-New Paltz and at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. As Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Marymount College, he taught Jewish History.
Cantor Steven Pearlston received his degree in Conducting and Comparative Religion from Occidental College in Los Angeles, his Certification in Jewish Education from the Haim Greenberg Seminary in Jerusalem, and his Cantorial investiture from Hebrew Union College in New York, from which he also received an honorary doctorate in music. He studied Jewish history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and opera at the Juilliard School, where he appeared with the American Opera Center. Cantor Pearlston is a member of the American Conference of Cantors and the Association for Jewish Studies.