East Bay native returns home to Livermore an ordained rabbi

When Rabbi Richard Winer was growing up in Concord, rabbinical aspirations were not on his list. In fact, he had considered a career in journalism at one time.

It was not until his senior year in high school that his future was suggested, when Rabbi Shelley Waldenberg of Lafayette's Temple Isaiah called Winer into his office and discussed the idea with him.

"It was a surprise. It was not something I had thought about," said Winer.

"By the end of my first year at the University of California at Santa Barbara, I was on track though. A professor took me under his wing. He put me on the path I wanted to be on and I was able to take advantage of the support of some wonderful people."

Today the new rabbi at Livermore's Reform Congregation Beth Emek feels fortunate to be on that path — back in the Bay Area and serving as rabbi in his first congregation.

"I would love this to be the place for me. I would love to continue to create a wonderful Jewish community here," said the 29-year-old East Bay native.

For Winer, who has been at Beth Emek since August on a part-time basis, this is his first pulpit as a professional. As a student at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, he interned at a chavurah for developmentally disabled Jewish adults under the auspices of Hillel.

"I didn't find it difficult. I felt very comfortable with the group, teaching them and learning from them, being friends. They are really inspirational people. They were all highly capable people," Winer said.

"They don't have the layers other people do. They are more trusting, more intuitive. They were eager and bright. I found it refreshing."

When his wife, Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, was offered the position as educational director at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos, Winer accompanied her to find a place to live. They settled in Redwood City. At the time, he interviewed for the position at Beth Emek and was hired.

"Although it is part-time now, I hope it will grow into a full-time position," he said, noting that the job gives him time to take care of his son, Saul, 3.

The congregation was established in the 1950s and now has 90 families and is growing. The community, he said, is "familiar territory," with about the same proportion of Jews as Concord.

"There is a good mix of ages. Many of the people are affiliated with the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. They are highly educated. They keep me on my toes," he said.

While Winer hopes to become a full-time rabbi as membership grows, he wants to keep the feeling of intimacy that now exists.

Even though it is small and quarters may need to be expanded, the congregation offers the full spectrum of services.

"Beth Emek wants to do what it can to be the congregation for the Tri-Valley area. What it takes to do that, we all want to do," Winer said.

"I would love this to become the place for me," he added.