Coffee klatches help new rabbi in S.F. get settled

Thursday, October 13, 2011 | by dan pine

For Rabbi Danny Gottlieb, August and September included a lot of coffee talk.

Sitting in the living rooms of congregants and learning their fondest hopes for Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco was the best way to get to know his new synagogue, he said.

Gottlieb, 58, joined Beth Israel Judea this summer, replacing Rabbi Rosalind Glazer. He and his partner, Ricki Weintraub, have settled in Pacifica. So far, he likes what he sees at his new synagogue.

“The members here are very committed to a strong community and treat each other like extended family,” he said. “I find it to be a place of real commitment to Jewish life and each other as members.”

Rabbi Danny Gottlieb
Rabbi Danny Gottlieb
Those coffee klatches revealed useful information for Gottlieb. He said members have told him they seek rejuvenation and rebuilding of the congregation, which currently has just less than 200 member families. He hopes to grow Beth Israel Judea by reaching out to young families living in the south end of San Francisco.

He also hopes to expand the synagogue school as well as kids, teen and adult programming across the board.

The Bay Area’s sometimes chilly weather shouldn’t throw Gottlieb. He’s a native of Canada, and spent 30 years as a Reform rabbi in and around his hometown of Toronto, one of the great Jewish cities of North America.

Gottlieb grew up in a Jewish neighborhood where the public schools closed on the High Holy Days. His early involvement with Jewish summer camps and organizations like the Reform movement’s North American Federation of Temple Youth got him started on the path to the rabbinate.

Over his career, he served as synagogue educator and executive director of the Canadian region of the Union for Reform Judaism. In 1999 he co-founded Camp George, the Reform movement’s only overnight camp in Canada, located on Maple Lake in Ontario.

Most recently he served as rabbi of Temple Kol Ami in Thornhill, a suburb of Toronto.

Gottlieb has already perceived certain cultural differences between the Toronto and Bay Area Jewish communities. For one thing — no surprise here — he sees the Canadian community as more socially conservative than its American counterpart.

That worked in his favor coming to Beth Israel Judea, which formed decades ago as a merger between Conservative and Reform congregations.

“Although it identifies as a Reform, [Beth Israel Judea] is more tradition oriented,” Gottlieb adds. “That’s very similar to the kind of Reform Judaism practiced in Canada.”

In Canada, Gottlieb took a special interest in social action, in particular advocating for battered women and the homeless, as well as combating hunger. He hopes to continue working on those issues alongside the temple’s social action volunteers.

Pulpit rabbis do tend to move around a bit, but crossing a border and several time zones is a big jump by any measure. Gottlieb says he does miss friends and family in the Great White North, but he was too busy preparing for the High Holy Days to dwell on it.

After the holidays end, Gottlieb will settle into the day-to-day work of a congregational rabbi. Though he’s worn many hats in his career, he says the synagogue is the center of Jewish life.

“There are many institutions in Jewish life that make use of Jews,” he said, “but it is only in the synagogue that Jews are made, their souls nourished and their identities fashioned.”