By Alisa Roberts
1. Tell us about your childhood. Who were your biggest influences?
I grew up in Los Angeles. I went to Yeshivat Yavneh as a child which certainly had a huge impact on my life. I went to YULA for high school. I’ve had a lot of great Rebbeim and teachers along the way. One teacher in particular who has a huge impact on my spiritual commitment is Rav Hershel Schachter Shlit”a whose shiur I was in for six years. A major part of my life is the inspiration of gedolim like Rav Kook Zt”l , Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Zt”l, Rav Shalom Elyashiv Zt”l and Yb”l Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlit”a. It’s their consummate attachment to Torah that drives me to finish Shas Bavli each year. I’m on, thank G-d, my eighth round this year.
2. What’s something unique about your teaching style?
I’ve always been drawn to the power of entertainment as a medium by which to move people. I believe in using that as part of the way I teach and the way I preach. To that end I try to keep the programming and lectures in line with a more epical quality. I like to run a lot of theme Shabbatonim, which are designed to help celebrate our Judaism through various kinds of entertainment. We know that music moves us. We know the emotional power of a motion picture. Those emotional charges can be used to assist in our learning and our education and in the way we influence our children. Humor is specifically a major element of my presentation style. That was given to me as a mesorah from my parents and is daily being reinforced by my Rebbetzin Shira.
3. Tell us about your time as the Rabbi of the West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan.
West Side Institutional Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in New York. It has a beautiful history but for numerous reasons most of the congregants left. When the position opened up in 2004 I said “this is great, a large blank canvas in Manhattan”. Along with the help of a fantastic Chazan – Zev Muller and some wonderful wide eyed young families, we built the shul. By the time I left it was up to 450 people on a given Shabbos.
4. What brought you back to California? Are you happy with the choice to return?
I really thought I would be in New York for a long time. But my past eventually came back to find me. I was invited to become the Dean of the community that I was part of in my youth. That nostalgic element was powerful. And it wasn’t just that I was coming back to a good school. I was coming back to very unique school. Yeshivat Yavneh has a vision that it lives by of which I have not seen duplicated anywhere . It takes on both Torah and secular studies without reservation or holding back. Yavneh really believes that its pursuit of Torah, Halacha, Zionism and its pursuit of general knowledge do not have to be watered down; you can do both properly and in a strong way. I’m very happy with the choice. I love Manhattan and I miss New York, but Los Angeles is so rich with opportunity. This is a great community and everybody knows that there’s a lot work to do here.
5. What’s it been like coming back to the school you went to as a child?
It’s been amazing. It’s very different. For one, it’s in a different building now. The opportunities are also different. Yeshivat Yavneh is a much better school than the one I left. It’s a much stronger school on all levels.
6. What are your goals for Yavneh?
My biggest goal is to strengthen the community’s relationship with Yavneh and create a stronger sense of camaraderie and family. We want to build a sense of warmth among our graduates, our students, and our parent body. Yavneh represents achievement at such high levels that I think our mission is to have an impact on the greater community as well. We’re also working hard on making sure Yavneh leads the charge into the next generation. We need to exemplify what is possible for a Yeshiva Day School in 2014. There’s also some serious fundraising goals. We need to make the burden of tuition more manageable on parents. We’ve come up with several out of the box and wild fund raising ideas that we’re going to roll out in February. G-d Willing it should be a game changer.
7. What do you think is in store for the LA Jewish community?
I’m doing a series called The History of Orthodox Judaism in Los Angeles. It’s never been done before. I started from 1840. The purpose of it is really to understand where we came from, and then to understand where we are heading to. The series has been amazing; life changing stories have been popping up. So many people have been coming out to hear it. I think it is a strong indicator that the Los Angeles community is very tied in to their past. That past needs to inform our future. In terms of what’s in store, I think that we’ve done a nice job until now of building a diverse Orthodox community. Right wing, left wing, Chassidic, Modern Orthodox. Now I think our task is to see how those communities can work together and make a greater impact on the world around us.