Barry Dolinger, rabbi and spiritual leader at Congregation Beth Sholom, hails from North Bellmore, New York.
Dolinger graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in political science and then earned a degree from Fordham Law School. He was ordained at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, in New York City, in 2011.
Dolinger has been the rabbi at Beth Sholom, a Modern Orthodox synagogue on the East Side of Providence, since 2011.
He is an active member of both the Rabbinical Council of America and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, and is vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.
Dolinger is also a member of Rabbis Without Borders and participates in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Hevraya network. Additionally, he is the head of Lighthouse Kosher, which supervises several vegetarian and vegan restaurants and chains in Providence.
Together with his colleagues Rabbi Elan Babchuck and Nicole Jellinek, Rabbi Dolinger is a co-founder and instructor at Thrive RI, which strives to build stronger communities and deeper connections.
Dolinger lives in Pawtucket with his wife, Naomi.
Q: Favorite Jewish food?
A: Herring in cream sauce.
Q: Favorite Jewish holiday? Why?
A: Passover. Because it is based in the home and not in the synagogue. I like that [Jewish families] do not get to rely on the rabbi to make a great seder. They have to do it themselves.
I like that Passover involves passing on tradition, as well as how current the themes always are. You’re passing on the traditions with discussion, so it’s automatically relevant.
I like that the structure of the seder involves some formal texts, giving the seder just enough structure to take off on your own – to discuss, to agree, to argue. Also, the food. I think that food is very powerful and to use food in such a strong ritual way, imbued with meaning, is such an exciting thing.
Q: Favorite Jewish song?
A: “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen.
Q: Favorite Jewish movie?
A: “The Prince of Egypt.”
Q: Favorite Jewish celebrity?
A: Amar’e Stoudemire, a former NBA player and a member of team Hapoel Jerusalem. He has embraced a Jewish identity. Israel has become a very important place to him – he started a line of Kosher wine recently and has embraced a spiritual journey. He hasn’t let being a celebrity embarrass him out of having an inner spiritual life.
Q: Favorite Israeli city to visit? Why?
A: Jerusalem and Tiberias. Jerusalem – there’s something incredibly profound about seeing this place that was our capital forever, bustling and alive, as well as the mix of the ancient and the modern. For me, the thing that is particularly exciting about Jerusalem is that there are a lot of great places to pray. I like a good, inspired prayer service.
Tiberias – there is something about the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] that is calming, and it is a beautiful city on the water, near the northern hills.
Q: Favorite Israeli city to live? Why?
A: Undecided. I am not a city dweller and I would much prefer to go on a hike and be in nature.
Q: Favorite Hebrew word and why?
A: Emet, the word for truth. It is special because, according to the mystics, it is comprised of the first, middle and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I think what is so nice about it is the surprising nature of the word. We’re used to truth being a zero-sum kind of thing, where someone is right and someone is wrong. With this word, the meaning is just the opposite.
Q: Favorite Yiddish word and why?
A: Schlep. I sometimes like having difficult tasks to struggle through.
Q: Best part of keeping Kosher/most difficult part of keeping Kosher?
A: Best part: I didn’t always keep Kosher. I decided to begin keeping Kosher sometime after my Bar Mitzvah, my family was supportive and gradually came along to doing it with me.
One of my favorite parts of keeping Kosher is the sense of discipline and humility it creates. Eating is such an important part of life, so you are always conscious of this. It also encourages us to understand where our food comes from.
We live in a society that is so disconnected from the sources of our food and the consequences of consumption. Being Kosher makes you think, “Where did this food come from? Where was it made? How was it produced?” I think critical thinking about food is part of the awakening of consciousness that needs to happen in our society.
The worst part of keeping Kosher is that, as a rabbi, I have a lot of theories [on] Kosher law, opinions on Kosher law, which I am very sure are absolutely correct “on the book,” but are considered controversial and not widely accepted. I write about them on my blog and I run a Kosher agency named Lighthouse Kosher.
One of the worst parts is that it pushes us apart more than it brings us together. Also, because of many of the stringent rules and a lack of transparency, some people have become cynical toward Kosher, which is upsetting.
Q: Favorite part of being a rabbi?
A: My favorite part of being a rabbi is the work I do has direct meaning. When I wake up every day, I can make an impact in the lives of people and the community in ways that are obvious to me.
Another of my favorite parts are the weekly sermons. I enjoy developing an idea, getting up there, and telling people what I think. At first, I was afraid to be honest with people and to open up, but I’m getting more comfortable in my own skin as the years go on. The opportunity to talk with people – cutting out the chatter and creating moments of meaning for large numbers of people with words – feels like painting. With words, I am trying to evoke a certain image and share the experience as we look at it together. I find that to be a holy moment.
Q: Favorite Jewish memory?
A: Seders with my grandparents. There’s not much I remember, but what I do remember was it being late, being tired, colored glasses and festive food on the table, and songs with family.
Q: Greatest piece of advice you ever received?
A: “Never be any more attached to compliments [than] you are to criticism.” From Cantor Richard Cohen and Rabbi Jonathan Slater of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, in New York City.
Q: If you could have three dinner guests, living or from history, who would they be and why?
A: Thich Nhat Hanh [a Vietnamese monk]. He has written a lot of books on mindfulness, meditation and other things. I listened to some of his speeches, and when he is saying something very simple, to me it is calming, inspiring and special. There is a lot that I gain every time I listen to what he says.
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev. I’m very interested in Hasidism, and I admire the work he did. He would be a great dinner guest because he was very colorful and lively. You want people for dinner who would make for good conversation.
Emma Lazarus [poet and writer whose words are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty]. She was an incredibly active Jew whose family had fled the Spanish Inquisition. She presents a fascinating model of a woman who was a little ahead of her time, [in the] vanguard, super-educated and great with words. She served as a model for how American Jews would live in this country as part of the diaspora.
SAM SERBY is a freelance writer who lives in East Greenwich. He previously worked at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv.