New faces arrive to lead Halifax Jewish institutions

From left, rabbis Raysh Weiss, Jonah Rank and Yakov Kerzner JOEL JACOBSON PHOTO

“The times they are a changing”, Bob Dylan penned many years ago while perhaps foreseeing what would be happening in Halifax in 2016.

As rabbis have left for other pulpits, other rabbis are arriving to assume the leadership of the city’s two major shuls.

In addition, the Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC) and Hillel Atlantic Canada have new people at the helm.

“It’s exciting for everyone in the Halifax community and the region,” said Mark Rosen, co-chair of the executive committee of Shaar Shalom Synagogue a Conservative congregation, and a past president of the AJC. “At the Shaar, the new rabbi [32-year-old Rabbi Raysh Weiss] is bringing a youthful vibrancy to our congregation.”

Joseph Roza, president of the Orthodox Beth Israel Synagogue, was equally excited about the arrival of Rabbi Yakov Kerzner.

“After three rabbis who were quite young and were with us for about four years each, Rabbi Kerzner, in his late 50s, brings a maturity and experience that will fit in well with our congregation,” Roza said of the 125-year-old congregation and its aging membership. “Yet he has a youthful exuberance that should be able to relate well to younger members and the many university students in the Halifax area.”

At the AJC, Naomi Rosenfeld takes over as executive director as Jon Goldberg retires after 23 years at the helm. Craig Fox is the new director of Hillel Atlantic Canada.

Rabbi Weiss, a Chicago native and graduate of Northwestern University and University of Minnesota (PhD in comparative literature and cultural studies), received her ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York last May. She grew up in an Orthodox home but discovered Conservative Judaism in her teens and eventually chose to pursue a career in the rabbinate.

“As a young girl, I saw a deaf woman lead services at an egalitarian shul and was so impressed with her, I realized I wanted to do this work,” she recalled.

This will be her first rabbinic posting and she’s excited to be here, with her husband, Rabbi Jonah Rank, who will be involved in education and community engagement.

Rabbi Weiss chuckles and says, “I met him in the first week at JTS when I was having difficulty with my tfillin, which I had never worn, and he helped me.” The couple has a one-year-old  daughter.

They chose Halifax because “we were moved by the kindness of the people. And it’s a younger community that seems to have lots of potential.”

She’s excited to work with Rabbi Kerzner in the combined Hebrew schools of the two synagogues and “with the leadership of AJC and Hillel to make a stronger Jewish community.”

Rabbi Kerzner echoed those thoughts. “I know we’ll find new and creative ways to work together in the community,” he said.

Rabbi Kerzner comes to Halifax after 17 years as rabbi at the Mizrachi Bayit in Toronto plus time as an outreach educator at Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue and a similar position at Aish Hatorah/Ohr Somayach in Thornhill.

He and his wife Lisa have four grown children, three living in Brooklyn, N.Y. and one just entering the Israel Defence Forces as a lone soldier. The rabbi grew up in a rabbinical family in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., and studied at yeshivas for 11 years before branching into business as founder and president of Nightingale Health Care and Primary Response in Toronto. He received his ordination from Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., in 1990.

“Being in Halifax will be similar to being in Wilkes-Barre, a smaller community,” he said. “Lisa [who grew up in Malden, Mass., also a small community] and I are going back to what we know, so it’s no shock after being in Toronto. “

Being with older congregants gives Rabbi Kerzner an ability to relate as he foresees being able to share common life experiences.

“I can enter discussions which possibly a younger rabbi couldn’t. But I know I can work well with younger congregants, university students and the children I’ll be teaching at the Talmud Torah,” he said.