Perl, 64, believes a key part of his religious duties is to help those “who fall between the cracks.” He’s been visiting rehabilitation centers, hospitals and prisons for years, offering spiritual guidance to those struggling with drug addiction.
Perl, who has been leading his congregation since 1976, has felt close to this cause for a long time. Narcan, or naloxone, is a nasal spray that can be used to treat a known or suspected opioid overdose. He holds the trainings at the synagogue.
“It’s a very important thing to me — to help people who perhaps fall over the edge, and for us to be there to welcome them and to know they have someone they can turn to to make a difference,” he said.
“I’ve never lost faith in anyone, whoever they may be.”
Perl identifies as Hasidic, a subgroup of Orthodox Judaism that focuses on mysticism — in particular, achieving an authentic and direct relationship with God. Because of this characterization and its emphasis on personal happiness, Hasidism was considered revolutionary as a movement within Judaism during the 18th century.
Perl has lived in Mineola for more than 40 years. He and his wife, Bluma, raised eight children there. He grew up in a religious home in London. His father, a Holocaust survivor, always dressed “extremely modest” around the house. This would include formal, dark-colored clothing, and the tallit — or prayer shawl — on the Sabbath and holidays.
“A staple of Jewish life is modesty, so how we walk and how we interact with people speaks volumes of why we dress a certain way and how we present ourselves,” Perl said. “We’re all God’s children and therefore must live in a dignified, modest manner.”
‘I see it as kind of like a soldier. A soldier has to wear his uniform whether it’s hot, whether it’s cold.’ -Rabbi Anchelle Perl
Perl wears the same type of attire every day — “darker, more conservative-looking clothes” — including a suit and jacket and wide-brim hat over his yarmulke.
He sees the garments as “a reflection of humility.” He believes that as a person, “you have to be colorful. You have to be vivacious and caring in life about other people. It’s not about the clothes.”
As part of Orthodox Jewish observances, Perl is careful to never trim his facial hair: “What you see is what I was born with.”
“I see it as kind of like a soldier. A soldier has to wear his uniform whether it’s hot, whether it’s cold.”
He’s able to find common ground with people of different faiths through this self-expression. Between that and a shared belief in God, he’s able to easily relate to people of all religions.
“Each of us has a role, each of us has a mission, each of us were created by God, and if everybody looked like me or dressed like me, it would be a very boring world,” he said.
Perl says he’s “inspired” when he sees people of different affiliations and backgrounds coming together for a common cause. This feeling has been especially relevant to him lately.
Since the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, an anti-Semitic crime that claimed the lives of 11 people in October, Perl has been trying to bind members of his congregation even closer together, including making security improvements at the synagogue.
“In a time like this where there’s so much darkness, we must respond by increasing our light,” he said.
He’s carried this sentiment into the holiday season, encouraging his congregation to “think about the families in Pittsburgh who have lost family, or think about your own family you’ve lost — what gift were you planning to give if that person was with you?”
Since that loved one is no longer alive, Perl is asking his congregation to “now take that gift that you would give to a loved one and give it to some charity or someone next door, give that gift to someone else.”
Celebrating Hanukkah is difficult when faced with so much loss, Perl says. “We’ve learned to be silent. We even have a precedent in our Jewish history when Aaron the High Priest lost his sons and so he remained silent.”
But Perl thinks the best way to cope is by addressing that loss — reminiscing, sharing stories of the past and going forward with compassion. These were the themes he addressed in his first sermon after the Tree of Life tragedy.
“To respond by building, by moving forward, by really going to action and filling the void that was created on whatever level it may be — that’s how I approached it,” he said. “If one individual can create a havoc, then how much more so can an individual create positive energy?”
Sermons are perhaps the most important part of Perl’s job, and he sees them as an opportunity to connect with his community. For Perl, what makes a great sermon is “if a person walks away knowing that they can make a difference.” Sincerity is important, too — if the rabbi is into it, he says, the congregation will follow.
When he can, he tries to keep it light and upbeat — and he’s not above poking some fun at himself.
“One of the reasons why I have a long beard is in case my job doesn’t work out, I’m on standby for ‘Duck Dynasty.’”