Rabbi Dan Moskovitz '00
Temple Sholom, Vancouver, Canada
What is your mission as the Senior Rabbi of your congregation in Canada?
Our congregational mission statement is, “A Canadian Reform congregation that honours and sanctifies each and every person, integrating a deep sense of Jewish tradition with contemporary life.” That statement predates my arrival as senior rabbi in July 2013 but it fully aligns with my own mission, vision, and purpose as a rabbi. My rabbinate is probably best characterized by a relational approach to every aspect of my work. I am constantly reminding myself, and we have it as a guiding principle of our team, “connection before content.” We take the time to get to know the stories of the people in our community. The meeting, the phone call, the brief visit during an oneg, that is the torah – all the rest is commentary. My goal is to create moments of meaningful connection between me and our members and between our members and each other. If we know each other’s stories and hold them as sacred to us, just as they are sacred to the individual that is telling them, then we are more than I/it, and can truly enter into I/Thou.
As an example, when I first arrived at the congregation 10 years ago, I didn’t know any of the stories behind the 50+ names on our weekly yhartzeit list. I decided to dedicate 3 hours each week to calling every family on the list and asking them to tell me about the person they were saying kaddish for. It was a powerful relational moment. Many had not thought deeply about the deceased in decades, others had never had the rabbi call their home before. For me it was a trust building moment as well, in which I could model this concept of holding sacred each other’s most personal life moments. I have continued similar practices in the intervening years. I offer to meet with every B’nai Mitzvah family (we have 950+ households) at their home a year prior to their B’nai Mitzvah, and I ask them to tell me the story of their family, their values, the role Judaism plays, and what this liminal moment means to them. I then ask them to tell me what they admire or want me to know about their child. I do this with the whole family together in the room. More than me hearing these insights, they hear them from each other. The conversations that happens in that home after I leave are different than before I arrived, at least for a period of time; they are l’shem shamayim.
How does your work strengthen the Jewish community in Canada?
Temple Sholom is the only reform synagogue in Vancouver, and we are also the largest synagogue west of Toronto. In the Canadian Jewish Community, Reform Judaism is the third largest movement, significantly behind Conservative and Orthodox, in raw numbers, history, and influence. But Temple Sholom has been growing in those same three areas exponentially. Our membership has increased by more than 50% over the last 9 years (when I arrived in 2013 we had 600 households). With this, our resources and ability to lead in the community on issues important to us as Reform Jews has also increased proportionally. Our work to sponsor Syrian refugee families, on climate change, and our outreach programs to unaffiliated and marginalized households in our community, have reset the community conversations across the city.
We frequently partner with the other congregations in our community, and with broader religious and civic organizations. I have served as the chair of the local board of rabbis (Rabbinical Association of Vancouver) and as chair of the Reform Rabbis of Canada. These roles and initiatives have garnered some provincial and national media attention which has further enhanced our ability to lead and influence the priorities of the community. By being a good and trusted partner with our Jewish Federation, neighbouring congregations, and our civil government, we have a seat at the table for most major initiatives or conversations. Our role as an innovation leader during the COVID-19 pandemic (worship, technology, programming, and pastoral services) has further strengthened our congregation, the broader Jewish community, and the faith community of British Columbia.
How did your education at HUC-JIR prepare you for your career?
HUC-JIR provided my academic foundation, and varied, mentored, real world experiences that I rely upon every day in my work as a congregational rabbi. I have a M.A.J.E. degree from the Rhea Hirsch School of Jewish Education and was ordained as a rabbi by HUC-JIR/Cincinnati in 2000. The very practical coursework we did in the Rhea Hirsch school on organizational management, budgeting, supervision, and pedagogic theory has proven to have value far beyond the classroom or school administration. I use these skills in “the other role” of a senior rabbi, that is as a managing partner in a large and complex non-profit organization (the modern synagogue).
Further, my opportunities with HUC-JIR to intern in hospital chaplaincy, small solo congregational pulpits, larger congregations, organizations, and to work with mentors in each of them gave me the invaluable opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe space. I think about Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hours to become an expert” in his book Outliers as being one of the unstated missions of an HUC-JIR education. Not that as a student I accumulated 10,000 of funerals or B’nai mitzvah or in the classroom, but I was given enough of a foundation of experience that the path toward those 10,000 hours was clear and relatively safe to travel.
What impact are you having in advancing Jewish identity, education, and engagement?
One needs to be humble in this work. It’s not about me – it is about the moment and trying to hold it with sanctity. As an example, a funeral is a sacred moment, the role of the rabbi is essential in guiding the mourners toward that sanctity, in helping to block out distractions, to elevate speech and nurture reflection. In that way, I am a bit like a tour guide, guiding a group or individual through one of the seven wonders of the world. The wonder is right there in front of them, all around them, and my role is to help them see it, to explain it, and to give context so that it makes an indelible impression upon them.
But I am not the thing they came to see, and I should not be the thing they most remember; the thing they most remember should be the awe and wonder of the place or in the context of a funeral, the blessed memory of the departed and how it was celebrated and elevated. I try to do that in every moment, classroom, bema, bedside, graveside, meeting in my office, sitting on the floor with little children at Tot Shabbat, or visiting a group of seniors in the Jewish Home for the Aged. If I can do that most of the time, then I think I will have done what I can to advance Jewish identity, education, and engagement. At the end of the day, all I want as a rabbi is to be remembered for having been a blessing to my community.