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The Great Rabbino’s alter ego: Pulpit Rabbi

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01/10/2012

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You all know Jeremy Fine as The Great Rabbino updating us on all the latest Jewish sports news and interviewing our favorite athletes but did you also know that he is a soon-to-be rabbi? Recently, Oy!Chicago decided to turn the tables on Jeremy and interview him about his Jewish upbringing, why he became a rabbi and as a fellow 20-30something, what he thinks about the future of synagogues and Judaism for our generation. Check out his thoughts below! 

Where did you grow up? What was your Jewish upbringing? 
I lived in Skokie until I was five, but then mainly Deerfield until I left for college at U of I. My home was across the street from Moriah Congregation in Deerfield, which is Conservative. Between Moriah, Solomon Schechter, and Camp Ramah one could make a pretty good argument that I was raised as a Conservative Jew. Highlights were for sure Shabbat dinners with my family and friends.

When did you decide to become a rabbi? Why? 
I was a freshman in college. I had just come back from a transformative summer as sports staff at Camp Ramah. My dream as a young child was to coach college basketball. But after deciding to attend U of I and coaching at the local high school, I realized that I wanted to help the Jewish community and the Rabbi idea fell into place. Coaching and rabbi-ing can be pretty similar. Both professions need creativity, a love of people, and a desire to help others do their best. Also, both professions require life-long learning.

What kind of rabbi do you see yourself being in five years, 20 years? 
That is a tricky question, but ideally in five years I want to be a part of a warm and exciting community. I want to still be growing into my role as rabbi. Right now I would say I am on the path to serve in a pulpit although Ramah, Schechter, and Hillel are all near and dear to my heart. I would certainly be happy to serve as the director of a Ramah Camp or the rabbi at a Solomon Schechter school. In a synagogue, on a daily basis, I get to educate and deal hands on with people from one to 120 years old that is a true privilege. In 20 years, I would like to be settled in a position that I love going to every morning, mentoring future rabbis, and have written a few books.

It's a big challenge these days to get your peers (20 and 30somethings) to join synagogues, how do you plan to address that issue/draw them into the fold? 
The saying is, "30 is the new 20." Well, that term isn't just for dating and partying, I think it holds true for their Jewish lives, too. People get bits and pieces of Judaism all over the place and the synagogue, which traditionally was the home for everything Jewish, doesn't have a monopoly anymore. But trends like these come and go. I think there are a few things we need to do. The first is meet people where they are. As a rabbi it is my job to get out there and connect with them on the softball field, at their big social events, and wherever else they might be. Secondly, is to create different access points into the synagogue through social groups, learning opportunities, and experiences. Synagogue can be intimidating; it's the rabbi's job to make it welcoming. Third and finally, if all else fails, use Jewish guilt! Just kidding. Ultimately, everyone in some way or another wants a community. A synagogue is a fantastic place to latch onto a community that celebrates your happiness, comforts you during the hard times, and brings deeper meaning and connection to one's life.

How big should the Jewish tent be? Who do we include? 
A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus size tent. Realistically, I think we are in a very unique time to understanding who is a Jew. As a soon-to-be Conservative Rabbi I believe in a binding set of Jewish laws that inform us of who is Jewish. But I certainly recognize that my opinion and stance is not the only one that counts. We are in a very vital time in Jewish historywhere freedom has been so widely felt which I believe has caused the lines of who is Jewish to waver both in the United States and Israel. I think the key is to be welcoming, understanding, and honest when dealing with these issues.

How do we encourage interfaith families to practice and raise Jewish children? 
I am a big believer in understanding that everyone who walks through the doors of my synagogue has their own story. If that story wants to be shared, I am happy to listen. The encouragement comes when they walk in the door, by setting an example of a Jewish lifestyle and creating a warm and comfortable environment. Each family makes their own decisions and I am happy to help those families formulate a meaningful Jewish life. As for the kids, the importance is providing them with a strong Jewish education, so when decisions have to be made or those children seek out their Jewish heritage they are better equipped to tackle Judaism.

What do you think of the rise in popularity of non-institutional Jewish groups like kehilla and independent minyanim? 
Honestly, I think it is a trend. It's a potentially wonderful and meaningful fad that I have partaken in, but ultimately I believe in the power of the synagogue. I want my future kids to be around many other Jewish kids and to feel that synagogue is a second home. There is a lot of initial appeal to young people to be a part of independent minyanim because they are less intimidating, more laid back, and frankly cheaper (most of the time). But I think the future is still in the synagogue even if synagogues might have to revise themselves along the way.

What do you love about what you do today? 
Being a pulpit rabbi for the last six months has been amazing. My wife and I have been blessed to be at a supportive synagogue that is so welcoming and exciting. I have found so much joy in the little things like our youth basketball and our small group dialogues in congregants' homes. What a great privilege it was to speak to 1,500 people over the High Holidays and share with them the Torah that I have been fortunate enough to have learned. Ultimately, the people make the job.

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Switching to your alter ego for a second, The Great Rabbino, tell us who is your favorite Jewish athlete of all time and why? 
Probably Hank Greenberg for sentimental reasons. While I never got to see him play, when I was a child my father took me to Deerbrook Mall to see his documentary. I fell in love with him right then and there. But I am also a big fan of Omri Casspi, Gabe Carimi, and Colt Cabana because they really embrace being Jewish. It means a lot to Jewish people when their athletes wear their religion across their chest.

What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago? 
Personally, it is to go back to the places that helped me build a strong Jewish identity. I try to visit Solomon Schechter and Ida Crown whenever I get a chance. But right now, I love going back to my parents' synagogue and just being a congregant. Nothing like sitting in back and falling asleep during a sermon! Just kidding, it's nice to see my home rabbi and listen to his words that have inspired me to take my journey through Rabbinical School.

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