In cities and towns across Israel, the missing, pivotal character who could serve as a locus for spiritual needs, informal education and charitable programs is the communal rabbi, argue the founders of the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics.
“The shul in Israel has always been perceived as, basically, a place to go daven, and maybe catch a class. It provides a service,” says Rabbi David Fine, one of the two founders of Barkai. “We feel that there’s a growing desire to create more of a community around the synagogues.”
Unfortunately, most Israeli rabbis have never been trained to fill the role of communal rabbi as it is performed by rabbis in the U.S..
Barkai’s founders Rabbi David Fine and Rabbi Shlomo Sobol aim to improve the fabric of Israeli society by giving Israeli rabbis the skills they need to lead their communities to “a more meaningful connection with Judaism.” They want their new center to “act as a unifying force in Israeli society.”
“In the U.S., we take it for granted that a community rabbi is someone you can turn to in times of trouble,” Rabbi Fine continues. “In the Jewish State that’s not always the case. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, religious and secular, are spiritually adrift. They have questions about their Judaism. They would love to be part of a warm community, to be inspired, to learn, and to make their life cycle events and holidays more meaningful. They are searching for a Jewish role model who can speak to them.”
Rabbi David Fine, 43, holds a BA with honors in Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, an MA in Jewish History, and received his rabbinic ordination from the Joseph Straus Rabbinical Seminary in Efrat, Israel. He has served as a rabbi in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Overland Park, Kansas, and has been involved in overseeing communal Jewish services such as kosher certification, eruv maintenance, and burial.
Rabbi Fine made aliyah in 2008. He is a staff member of Yeshivat Meir Harel, the Hesder Yeshiva of Modi’in, the Program Coordinator for Jewish Identity at the Modi’in Community Center and teaches adult education at Sha’arei Yonah Menachem Congregation in Modi’in.
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol, 42, is an eighth-generation Jerusalem native who studied in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav for ten years and served in the IDF Artillery Corps. He received his ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate in 1997 and has a Master’s Degree in Talmud from Bar-Ilan University.
Rabbi Sobol headed the Torah MiTzion Kollel in Detroit for four years and has served as Rabbinic Consultant for the Torah MiTzion network ever since. He is also a licensed marriage counselor, a certified mediator, and has headed the Sha’arei Yonah Menachem Congregation in Modi’in for seven years, where he is well known for his work in education and immigrant absorption.
“When we started trying to recruit students, we got calls from communities – already asking if we had rabbis for them” reports Rabbi Fine. “There’s a real thirst out there for community rabbis and there’s a real need for it.”
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has agreed to become the president of Barkai, and the organization has already received the endorsement of the entire “senior generation” – as Fine puts it – of the Religious Zionist rabbis, including Rabbis Druckman, Arial (ramat Gan), and Rabinowitz (Maale Adumim), as well as UJA President Natan Sharansky.
This week they launched their first class, with about 20 students (out of some 100 applicants – well above the founders’ expectations) which will receive 500 hours of instruction. Rabbi Lau and Zevolun Orlev spoke, as well as a few of the local dignitaries of Modiin.
Personally, I believe the true miracle of the Barkai endeavor is in the fact that they found so many Israelis willing to learn from Americans about the rabbinate… We wish them great success, and please keep us posted.