Meet the Rabbi – Rabbi Roni Tabick

Jewish culture By Rabbi Roni Tabick 17th Nov 2015

As the child of two rabbis, the question I was asked the most growing up was probably whether I would enter the family business. “No way”, I would answer, “I’m going to do something completely different like teach philosophy”.

I think I was probably the only one who didn’t see my change of heart coming.

The realisation that I too wanted to be a rabbi came to me while I was studying Philosophy in Oxford. Taking a course in the philosophy of religion, and having to prepare essays to be read aloud to my tutor every week, I had the strange desire to turn my essays into sermons. I wanted to bring in verses from the Torah, stories from the Talmud, and finish them with a takeaway message of hope or a call to action.

“Maybe I should become a rabbi”, I said to my friends and family. “Of course”, they replied, “we always knew you would.”

But it wasn’t just the essays/sermons that inspired me. I was also heavily involved in the Jewish Society and found a lot of time thinking about events, leadership structures and fundraising. Organising a Jewish community seemed like a vital task, and something I felt really strongly about doing, but as yet I didn’t think of myself as Masorti.

My first major exposure to the UK Masorti community came a bit later when I had to take a year off from Oxford due to some health issues. Faced with a year and nothing to do, I came across an advert for a job working for Marom, Masorti Young Adults. Doing this job I fell in love with the Masorti community. I loved the energy in the services I went to, the traditional forms of prayer with the modern tunes that could get the soul moving. I loved the Masorti rabbis, who were, and are, an amazing source of inspiration to me. Caring, intellectual, passionate – I wanted to be one of the team!

Along the way I found my Jewish passions. I love Jewish mythology, stories of dragons, sea monsters, demons and angels – these lesser known legends are to me, the beating heart of our tradition, something that connects us to all other peoples but with our own distinctive voice. The combination of myth and law, lived out in our daily rituals and obligations is to me what Judaism is all about and the subject of my Senior Sermon in my last year at JTS:

“As I set out in my rabbinate, I want to create communities that feel inspired by both halves of our tradition, who keep ritual laws and feel the heart-pumping legends beating below the surface, and who know our great legends and use them as a source of inspiration to take real action in the world.

“For our myths in the end mean nothing, if we do not respond to the voices of pain and need that we hear all around us”

The journey from the first realisation of wanting to become a rabbi to today has been direct but slow. It’s taken me to Manchester where I taught Religious Studies at Manchester Grammar School, to Israel for another year at the Conservative Yeshiva, and to New York to train at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

At JTS I became part of the Gladstein Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Rabbinics, an amazing scholarship and community aiming to provide rabbis with the training and experience to develop smaller communities. Those in the program take a student pulpit in a small community in the USA, but I always knew that, if the opportunity came along, I wanted to work in the UK Masorti community.

After meeting with the leadership of New Stoke Newington Shul, I knew I had found the community to make it happen. For the final two years of my training I was flying into London about once a month to lead services and meet with members of the shul. I was a jet-setting, continent-hopping rabbinical student, proud of how exhausted and jet-lagged I felt! It was an enormous relief to move to London and begin some of the work that I just hadn’t had the time for while based in New York.

Now I’m here, working for New Stoke Newington Shul, New North London and for the wider Masorti movement, each role with its own challenges and goals. In New North London I want to get to know this amazing jewel of a synagogue, how it operates and creates a warm atmosphere for its many members. Working with Rabbi Jonathan is a special privilege and I know there is always more to learn. In Stoke Newington we’re aiming to grow – in numbers, in the numbers of events, and in the depth of knowledge and participation. There’s so much untapped potential! People who feel removed from their Judaism, who are looking for a community, friendships, a spiritual connection to their tradition. So many people to reach, so many relationships to build.

Ten years, three countries, a wedding, and two children later, I’ve finally entered the family business.

Rabbi Roni Tabick is the rabbi of New Stoke Newington Shul and the assistant rabbi of New North London Synagogue. He was ordained this summer at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and has just moved back to the UK with his wife, Shoshana, and his two daughters to begin working in the Masorti community of the UK. 

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