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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


July 13, 2018  RSS feed
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Text: T T T

New CBI rabbi to honor past, forge new paths

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Rabbi Philip Weintraub of Congregation B’nai Israel and wife Rebecca have two daughters, Hannah, 5, and Eliana, nearly 2. Rabbi Philip Weintraub of Congregation B’nai Israel and wife Rebecca have two daughters, Hannah, 5, and Eliana, nearly 2. Just how does a new rabbi replace a person that has been the backbone of a congregation for more than four decades? By being himself, says Rabbi Philip Weintraub, who officially became Congregation B’nai Israel’s rabbi on July 1, replacing retiring Rabbi Jacob Luski.

“I have huge admiration for Rabbi Luski, but I do not want to be another Rabbi Luski. I can’t be another Rabbi Luski. I have to be me.”

Rabbi Weintraub becomes only the fifth senior rabbi in the Conservative congregation’s 95-year history.

From his first arrival in St. Petersburg for an interview with the Rabbinic Search Committee, leading a service and meeting congregants, Rabbi Weintraub said everyone was exceptionally warm and welcoming. That will help assuage some initial nervousness, he said.

He is looking forward to becoming a part of the community, both inside the synagogue and away from it.

In announcing the selection of Rabbi Weintraub, the Rabbinic Search committee noted that he “brings a very diverse skill set to our Kehilla (congregation)” and “prides himself on his relationships working across generations.”

Rabbi Weintraub said he is sure Rabbi Luski did some things better than he can and maybe he will be able to do some things, possibly social media, better than him.

Inevitably, he will do some things differently, but said, “If there is something I see that I want to change, I want to work with the congregation and want their voice in the process. … For me, being a rabbi is about the relationships and getting to know people.”

Unlike his predecessor who was fresh out of rabbinical school when he became rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel, Rabbi Weintraub, 34, comes to the synagogue with some pulpit experience.

He received his rabbinic ordination and master’s, with a concentration in pastoral care, in 2011 at Jewish Theological Seminary. Prior to that he earned a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University.

For the past seven years he has served as rabbi at the 130-yearold Congregation Agudas Israel in Newberry, NY. A certified chaplain, he also worked at a local hospital. He served as treasurer of the Greater Newburgh Interfaith Council.

Rabbi Weintraub and wife Rebecca have two daughters, Hannah, 5, and Eliana, nearly 2. From the kids’ visits to relatives in Florida they developed a love for Publix mac and cheese, so he said they are happy it is now conveniently available. He also said he already knows about Jo-Els, the longstanding kosher deli and market in St. Petersburg.

They found a new home within walking distance of B’nai Israel and Rabbi Weintraub is looking forward to taking the family to the beach and getting to know St. Petersburg.

Born in New York, Rabbi Weintraub grew up in the Atlanta area and was active in United Synagogue Youth (USY). He recalls attending some USY conventions in Florida and said his only other memories of Florida were going to Disney World and going on cruises with his family out of Miami.

“All my memories of Florida deal with positive Jewish experiences,” he said. He has in-laws in Boynton Beach, where there is a heavier concentration of the Jewish population than here. But having a smaller, more spread-out Jewish community here only means he will need to get out into the neighborhoods to meet folks, some who may be unlikely to attend shul.

In Newberry, he had a twice weekly gathering at a local coffee house and says he will probably do the same here.

“I see my rabbinic career as one for me to pastor and teach the Jewish community, but also to be a learner,” he said. “It is important to be the face of the congregation, representing the members and our faith in public” and that this should happen inside the synagogue and outside.

He said he wants to meet the mayor, work with the city and local Jewish organizations in any way that is helpful and wants to become an integral part of both the secular and Jewish community.

“I love liturgy but that is not everybody’s way of getting into Jewish life. So, social and educational events and senior and youth groups are important, and one of the things I want to look at is where our members live and what they need,” Rabbi Weintraub said.

He said it is important to cater to the various interests of all the demographic groups and create different opportunities to engage then in Judaism. “We can invite them in all different ways, like the dreidel run and being involved in St. Pete Pride” and other ways to make the public feel engaged and welcomed.

In only a short time, new members are likely to notice two things about Rabbi Weintruab that are different from Rabbi Luski: He is a guitar player and he carries around $2 bills.

He uses the $2 bills for many purchases and that alone makes folks smile and remember him and sometimes stop and chat with him.

“I am an amateur guitar player,” he said. Rabbi Weintraub said there will be times with or without the congregation’s cantor he may play the guitar for preschool kids at the synagogue or incorporate it into other events. “For me, it is relaxing and a way to inspire and bring joy.”

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