Rabbi Rothbaum is a 2006 graduate of the Academy of Jewish Religion in New York, the same seminary which ordained Rabbi Mintz in 1988. Unlike rabbinical seminaries rooted in Jewish movements (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist), the Academy of Jewish Religion is a non-denominational, pluralistic seminary. Its teaching honors the full spectrum of Judaism, fulfilling the needs of Jews in a “post-denominational” era, as stated on the AJR website. This has been seen as the wave of the future for Jewish communities. Thus, as Rabbi Mintz did before him, Rabbi Rothbaum embraces a philosophy of bringing Jews together from across denominational backgrounds.
Rabbi Rothbaum’s appointment coincides with the emergence of a new social justice initiative at CBE. This initiative, called in Hebrew Na’aseh (“We’ll do it”), was formed in early January, just as CBE was interviewing Rabbi Rothbaum. Its goal is to create specific pathways for CBE community members to advocate for the Jewish values of tzedek (“social justice”) and tikkun olam (“repairing our world”). Na’aseh members have begun discussing how these Jewish values can influence public policy discussions around issues like immigration and refugees, economic injustice and inequality, gender equity, and environmental stewardship.
As a speaker, teacher, and advocate with a rich history of social justice in his pulpit, Rabbi Rothbaum seemed like a perfect fit for the CBE community. He recently served as co-chair of the Bay Area Regional Council of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice. His advocacy work has placed him in front of audiences at the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Oakland City Council, and the New York State Democratic Party. In 2012, he joined a rabbinic delegation to Ghana, sponsored by American Jewish World Service. His justice-focused Jewish writing has been featured in The Forward, Tikkun, HuffPost, and the anthology, Peace, Justice, and Jews: Reclaiming Our Tradition (2007).
Rabbi Rothbaum cites the Jewish imperative of r’difat tzedek—the pursuit of justice—as responsible for igniting his passion to become a rabbi. Rabbi Rothbaum is a tireless advocate for the importance of living Jewish values in everything we do.
“A Judaism that ignores the voice of the Sacred when confronted with matters of social justice neglects both Judaism and justice,” says Rothbaum. “So it’s only fitting that the search committee at Congregation Beth Elohim charged me with a very specific mission: cultivate CBE as a center of Jewish values, and a beacon of human values. This is in keeping with the Jewish people’s timeless pursuit of holy justice for the impoverished, vulnerable, and marginalized. I’m so excited to be part of a renewed commitment at Beth Elohim to fulfill the mitzvah—the sacred Jewish obligation—of pursuing justice.”
Rabbi Rothbaum has previously held posts as the campus rabbi of Hillels of Westchester (N.Y.), serving students at Sarah Lawrence College and Purchase College; the director of congregational learning at Kehillat Lev Shalem in Woodstock, N.Y.; and rabbi at the Philipstown Reform Synagogue in Cold Spring, N.Y. More recently and while serving on the regional council of Bend the Arc, Rabbi Rothbaum was the youth and family education director at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, Calif., and rabbi-educator at Beth Chaim Congregation in Danville, Calif.
Rabbi Rothbaum and his husband, Anthony (Mordechai Tvzi) Russell, an accomplished Yiddish vocalist, recently relocated to the Acton area.
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