Rabbi Phillip Graubart worries, “Does what we do still have relevance to people enough to create the next generation of Jews?”
8660 Gilman Drive, San Diego
Membership: 550 families
Pastor: Rabbi Phillip Graubart
Born: Long Branch, New Jersey
Formation: Jewish Theological Seminary, New York
Years Ordained: 23
San Diego Reader: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
Rabbi Phillip Graubart: I’ll say two things. One concern I think you will find most rabbis have is the future of the Jewish people. We have a lot of concerns about demographics. Are we really perpetuating ourselves here in America and to some extent in Israel? Does what we do still have relevance to people enough to create the next generation of Jews? I’m also concerned with giving guidance and comfort to people in their daily lives — trying to be the best pastor and rabbi I can be so people can better get through their particular circumstance.
SDR: What is the mission of your congregation?
RG: One of our most important missions is outreach in general to the Jewish community, to become relevant, important, and interesting to all Jews, no matter where they’ll be — so that Jews will have a reason to connect to Judaism, teach their children and create Jewish families…. Among the things that embody our outreach — and we try to be as creative and broadminded about how we define Judaism as possible — we offer traditional modes of worship that all synagogues offer, including Sabbath and daily services using the traditional modes in Hebrew and the traditional prayers. But we also try to be creative. We have yoga, hikes on Saturday, bike rides together, and lots of social events and ways for people to connect with each other to build a community.
SDR: Where is the most surprising place you found God?
RG: When I lived in New York City, I worked at a homeless shelter for a while as a volunteer…. Rabbi Abraham Heschel said you really see God and have a feeling for God’s presence anywhere but especially when he would take walks through slums and ghettos, wherever there was the most human misery, and yet they were human beings caring and comforting each other. That was a powerful experience for me — people totally down on their luck, drug addicts, alcoholics, people with nothing. I was able to connect with them. The way they supported each other was to me miraculous and one of the most powerful expressions of God’s presence.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
RG: My personal view, which is certainly colored by Jewish teaching — and I should tell you there’s not really a consensus in Jewish teaching on that question — but I have a strong belief in the afterlife — in heaven. You go and you’re with God. Somehow there is a judgment and there is a form of coming to terms with the bad things we’ve done, and also the good things we’ve done. It is an ultimate reality different from our own in which we’re with God. I’m comfortable calling that heaven. You have hell in Judaism but it’s downplayed in our Jewish texts. It’s more like a period of time where you’re coming to terms with your sins…. It’s not so much fire and brimstone as it is an understanding of all the terrible things you did and a pure sense of embarrassment, shame, and sorrow…. But what’s important to me is that you get past that — it happens and then you move on to heaven.