InterfaithFamily: Review of The Choosing by Andrea Myers

Originally published on InterfaithFamily.

I am one of those people who grew up bombarded by messages from the mainstream Jewish community denouncing intermarriage as the worst plague affecting the Jewish people. Often, when whoever was railing on was feeling charitable, their rant would include a parenthetical reminder that converts were considered fully Jewish, so marrying a convert to Judaism wasn’t intermarriage.

Andrea Myers’s memoir, The Choosing: A Rabbi’s Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days, reminds us that there’s more than one way to create an interfaith family. Although Myers’s wife is Jewish, her own conversion to Judaism created many of the same dilemmas in her relationship to her parents and extended family that many interfaith couples confront. Her parents, themselves a mixed marriage of Catholic and Lutheran, are supportive and even eager to embrace their daughter’s new faith — at times with hilarious results. You mean the Jewish new year isn’t celebrated with midnight noisemakers? It’s not appropriate for a woman to thank an Orthodox Judaica seller for a discount with a big bear hug?  Continue reading

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The Jewish Advocate: Rabbi retiring in Brighton shows no signs of quitting

Originally published in The Jewish Advocate.

BOSTON – Rabbi Abraham Halbfinger, spiritual leader of Congregation Kadima-Toras Moshe in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood, steps down this week from the position he has held for the last 39 years.

A New York native ordained at Yeshiva University, Halbfinger, 70, initially came to Massachusetts for his first pulpit in North Adams, in the western part of the state. After sojourns in Quebec City and Lawrence, Mass., the rabbi in the mid-1960s brought his family to Brighton where they have been ever since.

“I like Massachusetts,” Halbfinger told The Jewish Advocate on Tuesday. “As the children got older, we decided we wanted to come to the big city. My teacher and mentor, Rabbi Soloveichik, was in the Boston area, and I wanted to be close to him.”  Continue reading

The Jewish Advocate: Merger of two congregations brings new rabbi

Originally published in The Jewish Advocate.

ANDOVER – Congregation Beth Israel of the Merrimack Valley is in the midst of a renewal. Born of a merger of Congregation Tifereth Israel of Andover and Temple Beth El of Lowell, the combined congregation this week holds an annual meeting at which it will review a feasibility study for its proposed new building and welcome Daniel Schweber as its new rabbi.

The first quality one notices about Schweber is his youth. Having gone directly from the University of Michigan to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, he was ordained in 2004. Following a one-year stint as an assistant rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., he has been named Beth Israel’s first full-time rabbi before he even turns 30.

While his wife’s professional needs have brought him to the Boston area – she is a doctor in residency at Tufts New England Medical Center – both Rabbi and Dr. Schweber are enthusiastic about the move to Andover. “The area is beautiful,” he said in an interview at the temple earlier this week. “The one thing I’m trying to convince people is that we’re not so far from Boston.”

In retrospect, Schweber’s career path appears to have been inevitable: “I could be a poster child of the Conservative movement,” he said. His youth included time at a Jewish day school, involvement in United Synagogue Youth and summers at Camp Ramah. “In USY, I wanted to share my love of prayer with my fellow USYers, make tefillah [prayer] accessible to them,” he recalled. “People started asking, ‘Are you going to be a rabbi?’ and that planted the seed.”

Schweber credits the Jewish community at the University of Michigan with providing him the opportunity to develop his leadership style. By his second semester of college, he was already leading the Conservative minyan on campus.

His leadership skills will likely be a major element of his tenure at Beth Israel, where the recent merger brings unique challenges to community-building. “There’s an energy and an eagerness to make this merger work,” said Schweber. “They’ve worked a lot already on community-building. We now need to create Beth Israel, while preserving the history and the memory of the other congregations.”

The congregation is already feeling the effects of Schweber’s enthusiasm, with its summer bulletin filled with articles and announcements about opportunities to meet the new rabbi. As one such announcement puts it, “He looks forward to getting to know each and every congregant!”

Schweber said he is “willing and wanting to reach out” to every part of the congregation, with programs such as a monthly Young Families Shabbat, incorporating prayer, food and Sabbath ritual, and a regular teaching slot at the congregation’s Midrasha (Hebrew high school) program.

“It is so important, as a rabbi, to be involved with the kids,” he said. “They need that connection.”