Robert S. Leib, Senior Rabbi
The synagogue is the primary portal to institutional Jewish life. It is also, I very much believe, the principal gateway to establishing deep connections and meaningful relationships between and among one another. Little wonder, then, that we refer to ourselves as Beit Am the "House of the People," for it within the warm, comforting and familiar embrace of the Molish Sanctuary, the Temple Beth Torah Chapel, the Klein Chapel, the Rabbi Harold B. and Elise Waintrup Religious School, the Temple Beth Torah School of Early Learning, the Rovinsky Family Youth Lounge and the Strick Auditorium – the more prominent, public places on our Suzan and Allan Fox Campus - that we learn to define and refine our personal covenant with God and each other. For Judaism, ultimately, is a relational commitment. Peoplehood stands at the very center, the very heart of this glorious and magnificent enterprise that we call, "Judaism." I invite you - whether as a congregant, visitor or potential member - to join with us as we delve as far and as deep as we can into the very nature of what we constitute as a people; to try and understand our core being, our very essence, our most essential selves. Here, at Beth Am, we admittedly indulge in rich cultural norms; we aspire to impressive educational standards for all regardless of physical or cognitive ability; we ascribe to the fundamental tenets of a dynamic, relevant and contemporary Progressive Jewish faith; we embrace a remarkable and unique heritage that transcends biblical landscapes and rabbinic mandates, poetic inscriptions and philosophical interpretations. We are all that and yet so much more!
Stand with us at Sinai - shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, and hand in hand - and dare to dream of a better and brighter tomorrow for all of God's creatures... "Faith doesn't mean living with certainty. Faith is the courage to live with uncertainty, knowing that God is with us on that tough but necessary journey to a world that honors life and treasures peace." (Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks.)
You might say that it was bashert – meant to be - that I came to these blessed shores and have served as the Senior Rabbi of this congregation since 2004. Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, I graduated from the University of Cape Town in 1980 and began five-year, post-graduate rabbinic studies at the Leo Baeck College in London in 1981. The academic year 1983-84 took me to New York’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where I met my future wife Randy (a board-certified music therapist) while teaching at Central Synagogue. We were married there on August 11,1985. Following my ordination in 1986, I returned to my home congregation and served as an Assistant Rabbi at Temple Israel, the Cape Town Progressive Jewish Congregation until 1989. As a conscientious objector to serving in apartheid South Africa's defense forces, I had no other alternative but to leave the country. I participated in a most unusual series of “interviews” that included faxes, long-distance phone calls and video-taped answers to questions posed by Old York Road Temple-Beth Am search committee. It was meant to be! Together with Randy and our infant daughter, Hayley, I left South Africa and became Assistant Rabbi at Beth Am, working alongside Rabbi Harold B. Waintrup z”l. None of us could have imagined that this would be the beginning of a long relationship; together we will celebrate 25 years at this congregation in 2014. These years have been full of many special events shared with my Temple family. They include the birth of two more daughters, Ilana and Aviva, and welcoming another little girl, Emma (a bishon frise) into our home in Huntingdon Valley. I became a naturalized American citizen on January 12, 1994, though I continue to carry a strong foreign accent and can never forget my homeland. It will be my honor to lead a congregational trip to South Africa in November, 2014! These 25 years have included singing the “Star Spangled Banner” together when I became a naturalized American citizen in 1994. I was made a "Fellow" of Leo Baeck College in July 2011, marking 25 years in the rabbinate. I look forward to many more!
It is my honor to serve as a member of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia and as co-chair of the Diversity Advisory Committee for the Lower Moreland Township School Board. I am a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Association of Reform Zionists of America. I am a graduate of the Rabbinic Leadership Program of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and former chair of the Old York Road Interfaith Ministerium.
Jake Singer-Beilin, Associate Rabbi
I grew up in Ventura, CA surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents in the same town. I can recall going to my grandparents' house, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, and then bringing in Shabbat with a family dinner. These memories form the basis of my Jewish identity, which is intimately entwined with my love for family. During high school and college, I was very involved in National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Camp Newman, both as a participant and staff member. I also served on staff at Gindling Hilltop Camp in Malibu, CA. Through these formative experiences, I found a passion for vibrant, inclusive, bold, and experiential Judaism. I found a warm, inclusive, and caring Jewish community. From that point on there was no stopping me, I was going to serve the Jewish people and become a rabbi. I ventured up to Northern California in order to receive my Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from University of California, Davis, and took a year to study at Monash University outside of Melbourne, Australia, completing my undergraduate studies in 2005.
After college, I attended Hebrew Union College (HUC)-Jewish Institute of Religion Los Angeles campus. While at HUC, I received a Masters in Jewish Education. At HUC, I created works focusing on spirituality at camp, and the concept of joy in the Talmud. Additionally, I am a Mandel Fellow – part of rabbinic cohort looking at leadership, vision, community, and pluralism in congregational life. During my time at HUC, I served congregations in Great Falls, MT, Tarzana, CA, and Pacific Palisades, CA. There is no doubt; a West Coaster has come east!
After being ordained from the HUC, Los Angeles in 2011, I spent three years as the Assistant Rabbi and Director of Education at Temple Chai in Phoenix, AZ. While serving the Temple Chai community I helped re-imagine the religious school, lead inspiring worship services, and joyfully taught all ages. One of my favorite experiences was teaching the 10th grade Confirmation class every Tuesday night and having important, deep conversations with the synagogue's teens. During this time, I continued to engage with Jewish camps, serving as rabbinic faculty for URJ Camp Newman and Camp Stein in Prescott, AZ.
I am passionate about prayer and spirituality, rabbinic literature, social justice, and experiential Jewish education for all ages and learners. I enjoy song-leading and service leading with guitar, as well as hiking, reading, and cooking. I love dogs, and with any luck, will sometime soon have one of my own!
I feel blessed to have joined the Old York Road Temple-Beth Am team as Associate Rabbi, and to have this community as a spiritual and professional home.
Elena Zarkh, Cantor
I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, but the Philadelphia area has been my home since 1985 and my husband, Serge Goldberg and I now live in Maple Glen. He is s a personal trainer, but like many people, even I find it tough to make the time to work out every day. But I try!
I received my secular education majoring in voice and choir conducting in St. Petersburg, where my family was instrumental in keeping the family deeply connected to our Jewish roots. One of those connections was Jewish music and Yiddish folk songs, beautifully sung by my grandmother and mother during every family gathering and holiday celebration. When my family immigrated to the United States in 1979, we re-connected with my grandfather’s side of the family that left Russia many years earlier and I found myself in Los Angeles! But the West Coast was not for me, and I ended up in New York City which turned out to be a blessing, because New York is the location of the only Reform Cantorial School in the country. So it was not by chance that just after two years, I was accepted to Hebrew Union College- School of Sacred Music, where I learned the music, history and traditions of our people. Four years later, in 1985, I was invested as Cantor and took my first full-time position in a congregation, sharing the bimah with Rabbi Harold B. Waintrup z”l. After 25 years, the School granted me an honorary Doctor of Sacred Music and that year I celebrated with the congregation and led a group to visit my homeland. Now, 29 years later, I still am energized through my work, teaching children and adults alike, spreading my love and knowledge of Jewish music. From the Shabbat experience with the pre-school children to Bar-Bat Mitzvah students, from the children’s and adult choirs, to the Klezmer and the T’fillah bands, adult education classes to Talent shows and Purim Shpiels, I work to bring the highest degree of professionalism to all that I do. I hope my love and passion for Jewish music, shows through my voice and on my face.
I am involved in many different aspects of congregational life as well as in the broader Jewish community, having served as chair of the Delaware Valley Cantor’s Council and am a member of the American Conference of Cantors and the Women Cantor’s Network. I love the opportunity to sing with my colleagues from different denominations and stay connected to my “extended family,” Philadelphia’s large Russian Jewish community.
For me the words of Peter Yarrow precisely express how I feel about Jewish music.
“When people sing together, community is created. Together we rejoice, we celebrate, we mourn and we comfort each other. Through music, we reach each other’s hearts and souls. Music allows us to find a connection.”