Rabbi David Promoted to Senior Rabbi
by Holly Hinson
When Rabbi David Ariel-Joel first arrived at Temple Adath Israel Brith Sholom 11 years ago, he said he “wished to learn what it meant to be a Rabbi in America. I wanted to serve my congregants the very best I could and I wanted to help build a very strong learning and caring community at The Temple,” the rabbi said.
By all accounts, Rabbi David has done just that. In fact, his accomplishments were recognized at the Temple’s Annual Meeting on June 6 when he was promoted to senior rabbi, joining the other senior rabbis, husband and wife team Rabbis Joe Rooks Rapport and Gaylia Rooks. Members of the Temple overflowed the Waller Chapel to demonstrate their support for the new senior rabbi.
“I was honored and appreciative to all the members of The Temple for their trust in me, and for the kindness and warmth they have shown me through the years,” said Rabbi David. “I was humbled that my colleagues Rabbi Rooks and Rabbi Rapport were the ones to first offer me this privilege, grateful to our president, Susan Lancaster, for leading the effort, and to the Board of Trustees, for being so supportive,” he said.
Newly elected President Craig Goldstein said Rabbi David brings true compassion – and passion – to everything he does. “I have known him since he arrived, and it’s hard to describe how wonderful he has been for the congregation,” said Goldstein. “He’s a relationship person with a true passion – passion for the Temple, for its activities, for its members, for Jewish studies. He’s welcoming to everything and everyone; he really cares about people; about who you are.”
Born in Jerusalem, Rabbi David was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem in 1994. Before coming to Louisville, he served four years as executive director in the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (the Reform Movement in Israel) in Jerusalem, representing the IMPJ on an international level and overseeing all aspects of the organization.
This role was all-encompassing, including the oversight of everything from fundraising and public relations to problem solving, education, special events and publications, as well as maintaining contact with affiliated congregations and institutions in Israel. While he enjoyed the position, he said he felt it left little time for scholarship or ministry and yearned to return to the teaching and pastoral work of a pulpit rabbi. When the opportunity arose, Rabbi David chose to come to America – and to The Temple here in Louisville.
“The journey has been wonderful. I quickly grew to love The Temple and all that it stands for. I have never worked with a nicer, more welcoming, and considerate group of people than we have here. The Temple and its members have provided a nurturing and kind environment for me. This is much more than a job; it is my life and my passion,” he said.
Together with colleagues Rabbis Rooks and Rapport, Rabbi David said he felt in the time he has been here, they have accomplished much for the Temple and its members, including expanding community outreach and educational offerings and embracing opportunities to celebrate and share in life cycle events. With a passion for scholarly pursuits, he said he is proud that the Temple offers something for all ages to study Judaism.
“Almost every day of the week we teach young and old; and that is a truly wonderful attribute of our Temple, “he said. The educational offerings run the gamut from an enriched learning environment for adult education with eight different weekly classes to learning opportunities for younger members through the highly respected Religious School, Hebrew school, and family programs.
“We are proud that parents and students love our religious school,” said Rabbi David. “I am extremely pleased that all of The Temple rabbis teach at the school. It is crucial that young students enjoy a positive Jewish experience.”
According to Rabbi David, another important feature of a robust Temple has been continuing the creation of a caring community of volunteers to visit members in nursing homes, hospitals and home visits.
“As a rabbi, it is my obligation to serve our members in joyous occasions as well as in crisis. I do my very best to help our members design and mold their life cycle events, to share and to help in all the sacred moments of life. This aspect of my work has been a great source of fulfillment for me personally.”
In years of teaching and ministering at the Temple, the Rabbi said his own personal faith has been strengthened, has grown and in some ways, has changed.
“In America, interfaith marriages are common, and originally, I did not officiate at them. But I have since realized that the future of our community is in reaching out to all its members, and that it is my religious duty to provide service to all our members. We can serve our members’ needs best by supporting their personal decisions and creating the opportunity for a meaningful religious ceremony during an important time in their life. I hope that I am contributing to preserve and ensure the future of Jewish life in Louisville by doing so. I am proud that our Temple is an inclusive congregation, where all are welcomed and all are treated equally.”
As a scholar and published writer, Rabbi David takes to heart his role as a teacher to his congregation and believes in life-long learning and in sharing those important lessons he is learning with Temple members. After teaching at a study seminar for rabbis in South America in 2007, he initiated the Temple Scholars program, offering members the chance to understand how sacred texts are relevant in modern life. The program draws approximately 50 students, who spend half a day studying Jewish texts every Wednesday from the beginning of October through the middle of May. This “Beit Midrash” (house of learning) has just finished its fifth year.
In addition, for every summer since coming to America, Rabbi David has attended The Hartman Rabbinical Torah Seminar, where from early in the morning to late at night, he and his colleagues study Torah with the best intellects in the world. “I see the role of teacher and interpreter of Torah as a calling,” he said. “That is why we study the Torah portion of the week at The Temple with 20-30 members coming regularly to our Shabbat Torah Study. It is a true delight and inspiration as we share the pleasure of learning, and being on the forefront of Jewish learning,” he said.
Rabbi David has also translated his passion for learning into the written word, with many articles and three publications in Hebrew to his credit. One book, published in 2006 while he was living in Louisville, is,” Who is a Jew in Our Day?” It explores the concept of Jewish identity, a theme with which the Rabbi loves to engage through other media as well, particularly film.
An acknowledged fan of Israeli cinema, Rabbi David has long had a connection to the Ma’ale School of Television, Film and Arts in Jerusalem, and supports the vision of artists to express themes and subjects of Jewish interest.
“At Ma’ale Film School, they create films where burning issues of Jewish/Israeli identity are fearlessly yet artistically explored on screen… bringing an unusual and authentic voice from the Israeli society. The themes and dilemmas present ethical and moral questions, and arouse profound discussions about Jewish and Israeli identity. Some of the most sensitive and difficult issues facing Jewish communities today are depicted, heralding a new era of artistic and Jewish debate,” he explained. This year, with the generosity of the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, Rabbi David will show many new and exciting Israeli films at The Temple, including some Ma’ale films.
Being a Rabbi in Louisville, offers many opportunities to address trends that may be reflected in Jewish communities across the nation.
“Louisville’s Jewish community is getting older and smaller,” Rabbi David said. “It is our sacred duty to offer as many programs as we can for our aging population. Programs like the wonderful Chavurat Shalom on Thursday afternoons need our help and resources as they continue to grow. I am encouraged that The Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence is considering helping such programs and is creating a transportation program for the elderly amongst us.”
For Rabbi David, the most gratifying aspect of his ministry has been, and continues to be, developing relationships with Temple members, and the daily connection of sharing their life experiences.
“More in America than in Israel, the synagogue is the center of Jewish life. Much of my time is spent in contact with members in life-cycle ceremonies from birth through the last farewell to loved ones; in pastoral meetings, in classes for adults seeking spirituality and meaning, as well as teaching lively children. … Being able to help is my most fulfilling experience.”
Rabbi David said he is ready and excited for the challenges coming his way in his new role as senior rabbi, and only hopes to continue to grow in faith with his Temple community. “I am strengthened by the generosity of our Jewish community; by the warmth of its members and by living, learning and working with and for such a wonderful congregation. I hope that the community and the congregation have benefited as much from my life in Louisville as I have from being here with them.”