Rabbi Judah Dardik is experiencing what he calls “a series of lasts.”
His last sermon. His last temple bulletin column. His last Torah commentary for J. His last sunset over the bay.
“This is a totally high-class problem,” said Dardik, who is stepping down as senior rabbi at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland and moving to Israel with his family. “Choosing between two dreams is a wonderful problem to have, but I happen to have two dreams that are not geographically compatible. I’m glad for what’s coming. I just don’t like leaving.”
In advance of their rabbi’s final day on the job June 30, Beth Jacob congregants are preparing to say goodbye. The Modern Orthodox synagogue will hold a farewell family barbecue on Sunday, June 15 at Oakland Hebrew Day School, and Dardik will give his final Shabbat sermon and Kiddush on June 28.
After he, wife Naomi and their five children move to the Jerusalem suburb of Neve Daniel, Dardik will take a faculty post at Yeshivat Orayta in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. There he will continue to do one of his most cherished tasks: teaching. Over his 13 years in Oakland, Dardik gained a widespread reputation as a superb teacher and a Torah scholar.
Dawn Kepler serves as director of Building Jewish Bridges, an interfaith support organization based in Berkeley. Though not a Beth Jacob member, she has worked with Dardik for years, most closely in organizing his Taste of Judaism course.
She said he has always taught from the heart.
“What has impressed me, class after class, is his belief in all of us and his faith in God,” Kepler said. “He’s there to be a helpful envoy, but he absolutely does not want to be a deterrent. He is the most humble teacher.”
Jeff Shachat, former Beth Jacob president, sat on the search committee that hired a 27-year-old Dardik fresh out of Yeshiva University. Thirteen years later, he praises the rabbi’s “depth of understanding of people as well as Torah” and calls Dardik “an incredible teacher.”
“He models Torah by the way he interacts with everybody he meets,” Shachat said. “[Dardik] possesses incredible emotional intelligence, and he moves effortlessly between generations. He makes people feel at ease, and when he’s with you, he’s present with you. That’s an essential quality of a community leader.”
In addition to his duties at Beth Jacob, the Tenafly, N.J., native has written a regular Torah commentary column for J. since 2005; his final one will appear in the June 27 issue. Also, Naomi Dardik was for many years a Jewish studies teacher at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco; in 2008, she won a Helen Diller Family Award for Excellence in Jewish Education.
Congregant and former Beth Jacob board member Richard Leavitt joined the congregation because of Dardik.
“I went to his Torah study class on a Wednesday night and fell in love,” Leavitt recalled. “There was something about him that captivated me. I attended classes every Wednesday and at some point I felt I needed to join. I never met anybody like him. He’s a man who leads by example as well as words.”
Congregants say they will miss Naomi Dardik and the children just as much as the rabbi. Kepler lauded the rebbetzin’s “spine of steel,” while Shachat said she was “unflappable. She made it possible for him to be all in for the community.”
Before the family leaves, they plan to do a little sightseeing, including a first visit to Alcatraz. Dardik also hopes to climb Mt. Whitney, if time and knees permit.
What will Dardik miss most? The opportunities to teach and to learn from his fellow Bay Area Jews, he said.
“The sense of open-mindedness, curiosity and willingness to be on a spiritual journey without having to decide what the end point is: that’s something I won’t get a lot of in Israel,” he said. “People here give you the space to do your own thing, and that’s been fantastic. At the end of the day, in the rabbinate, if you love the people you’re with, you’ll be a very happy rabbi.”