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Getting to Know Jews: Rabbi Joshua Berkenwald

Posted by lchaimlover on September 4, 2007

With the High Holidays coming up, I thought it might be a good idea to introduce you to some of the young adults who run our synagogues. Thinking about where to go for the High Holidays can be daunting, especially if you don’t belong to a synagogue, so the next few articles will highlight the reasons that synagogues aren’t so scary. In fact some of the people in charge are just like us normal folks.


Rabbi Berkenwald and his wife Dana and their children.

Name: Rabbi Joshua Berkenwald
Age: 31
Position: Rabbi
Organization: Congregation Sinai
Mission: To provide meaningful Jewish experiences to Jews of all ages. Sinai is an egalitarian community committed to learning and exploring shared connections with G-d, Judaism, and the Jewish people.

Rabbi Berkenwald moved here with his family from the Bronx to take over the reins of Congregation Sinai. Bringing with him a range of experience having lived in Seattle, Vancouver, Israel, and the Bronx and a wealth of energy, Rabbi Berkenwald has great hopes for Congregation Sinai.

He chose Sinai for several reasons. First, he wanted a small community and he says that Sinai is a community thirsty for more: learning, engaging services, and experiences. Second, he liked that lay lead services. Third, the building. In case you haven’t noticed, Sinai has a beautiful new building in Willow Glen, which Rabbi Berkenwald likes because it was room for growth and flexibility.

The biggest challenge he perceives facing is fitting his idealized vision into a real world community. It is always a challenge to introduce new things, and he know that he will need to respect old traditions while looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes.

And there just so happens that he is starting something to help young adults get involved. On the second and fourth Shabbat of each month, Congregation Sinai will be hosting Friday Night Services. As time goes on, it may evolve to include dinners and social events. That’s not all Rabbi Berkenwald is doing to breaking down the barrier that a synagogue poses. He and Rabbi Joshua Fenton have been teaching classes on Maimonides at the JCC. It was been very well received, considering it takes place mid-morning on Tuesdays.

With the High Holidays coming up, Rabbi Berkenwald knows this will be his official introduction to the Sinai community. He hopes to set the tone for the services and the new year. He is taking his critical role as an example for the community very seriously, but he also wants to be seen as a peer. He doesn’t want his davening to influence, but to inspire. In addition to outlining his vision for the community, Rabbi Berkenwald also has a few surprises in store during Neilah service. I won’t ruin it for you, but I promise, it will be enjoyable.

If you are looking for a way to get involved, then Rabbi Berkenwald may the man for you. He is not only open to but welcomes any invitation to try new things and get out into the community.

In his spare time, Rabbi Berkenwald enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters and cooking. He even makes challah!

If you are interested in meeting Rabbi Berkenwald or learning more about Congregation Sinai, they will be offering free tickets for the High Holidays, but hurry, there are only a limited number available. Contact Congregation Sinai for more details.


One Response to “Getting to Know Jews: Rabbi Joshua Berkenwald”

  1. Nancy said

    I checked out Sinai this past Saturday for Shabbat morning services and thought Rabbi Buchenwald’s style was very down-to-earth and “accessible”. I highly recommend checking it out. (If you want to meetup and go together sometime, just email me at mountaineer at gmail dot com)!

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