The Voice asked Rabbi Avi Goldstein of Chabad at the University of Rhode Island to give us a little background information, and here’s what he wrote:
“I am a native Rhode Islander, having lived in Cranston and South Kingstown. I grew up as a typical American Rhode Island Jew who went to a Conservative synagogue, Hebrew school, Bar Mitzvah, Midrasha and Camp JORI (where I was a camper and counselor).
“After going back and forth philosophically, I concluded that Judaism didn’t have much to offer me, with the exception of some old traditions. I decided that I was agnostic. I felt that there was a higher power and a spiritual aspect to life, but Judaism didn’t seem to have answers to my questions.
“I took a trip to Israel while at college in Amherst, Massachusetts, where I was studying Japanese at the time. (I minored in Japanese.) While there, I spent time exploring in Sefat when a Kabbalah artist spoke with me.
“For the first time, I saw that the Torah and Jewish tradition had a spiritual, mystical aspect to it. It was more than just old stories and laws. It actually had a lot to say about us as souls and spiritual beings, what we are doing here, the purpose of our existence and more.
“I began doing a lot of learning and reading about kabbalah, though I realized later that not everything with the “kabbalah” label was Kosher, and some of it is distorted. You have to find the right information from authentic sources. I got more involved in Judaism when I returned to college, where I started studying Hebrew and Judaic Studies.
“I spent some time studying at a Hadar Hatorah Rabbinical Seminary in Brooklyn before spending two years studying at the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where I spent my final year of college. After that, I spent two years at the Rabbinical College of America.
“I married a Montrealer, and we lived in Montreal for a year. While in Montreal, I was a rabbinic intern and did outreach while in Kollel at Kollel Menachem.
“After our year in Montreal, we journeyed back to Rhode Island with our newborn to work with the Jewish community at URI in Kingston, and we love it here.”
Q: Who do you consider to be your rebbi? Is there something from his teachings that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
A: I am inspired by the teachings of the Lubavitcher rebbe, and his teachings motivate my work. The rebbe taught, if you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly in the world, then it is you yourself that needs repair.
Q: If you could have a one-hour study session with anybody throughout history, who would it be?
A: I would have to say Moses.
Q: What are some of your favorite things about living in Rhode Island? What are some of the most challenging?
A: I love the people and the ocean. I like that life here is not too fast-paced or too slow-paced. It’s quite balanced.
It is challenging being away from certain Jewish luxuries, like Kosher pizza shops and round-the-clock minyans, among other things.
Q: What’s your favorite Shabbat dish?
A: I’m a carb comfort-food lover. I’d have to say my wife Tzippy’s challah, fresh out of the oven!
Q: If you had to pick, what would you say is your favorite holiday? Why?
A: Passover. As Jews and as human beings, we travel out of our own spiritual Egypt –mitzrayim, which means limitations and boundaries. Although this happens to each individual on a daily basis, Passover is when we plug into this energy. This empowers our entire year.
Q: Favorite Jewish song/nigun?
A: “Anim Zmiros.”
Q: What are some of your favorite spots in Israel and why?
A: The old city of Jerusalem and Sefat. You can feel the holiness in the air.
Q: Overall, what would you say is your favorite part of being a rabbi?
A: The ability to connect with so many amazing people, who inspire me.
Q: Would you mind sharing a recent memory/experience that you found impactful?
A: I have a beautiful 2-year-old daughter, who is my greatest treasure. Fatherhood has forced me to start maturing and begin to move from childhood to adulthood. The nachas [pride/joy] I get from my baby daughter is something that words cannot give justice to.
Q: Any insights into a recent parashah [Torah portion] that you would like to share?
A: [from Parashah Ki Savo] “And it will be when you enter the land that God, your God is giving you …” (Deut. 26:1-2).
Midrash Breshit Rabba 42 explains that the phrase “And it will be …” connotes joy.
According to Kabbalah, coming into the land also is an allegory for the descent of the soul into the body.
The human soul is living a spiritual life, only to descend into a physical world filled with struggles, tribulations and a concealment of the divine. This descent, however, is a joyful experience. The ability to help each other with unconditional love and repair this world is the source for the ultimate feeling of joy. Every descent is for the ultimate purpose of ascent.
BEN GOLDBERG is the digital media associate at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.