Life & Culture

'She is the rabbi that I have always wanted to be'

We talk to three families where children have followed their fathers into the pulpit and become rabbis


Rabbi Yisroel Binstock & Dayan Ivan Binstock

It is hard for Yisroel Binstock, 33, Rabbi of Hendon United Synagogue, to know if he would have become a rabbi, if his father had not been one.

Rabbi Binstock says: "I was influenced by him very much and he was certainly part of the reason I pursued the career. Today, my congregants tell me my mannerisms, style and ideas are like his. And it is true many of my ideas are borrowed or shared with him and he has always been a great source of inspiration because he has a wealth of experience.

"Our home was a community hub. People were always coming in and out, and our Shabbat meals were exciting and engaging.

"I learned how to run a synagogue service by watching my father, but how to run a Jewish home, and the rituals associated with the home, I learned from my mother.

"Having a father who was a rabbi meant many proud moments as a child. And I have them even more, now that I am a rabbi.

"Last Shabbat, my father came over to my community in Hendon and spoke to my congregation. For me to be able to have that is very exciting.

"I think he would have been proud of any career I picked, and because of that never feel any pressure when he is in synagogue with me.

"People often ask us rabbi sons: 'Are you crazy? If you knew what was involved in the job, why did you choose it?'

"But, I'm a bit of a rebel and that made me want to do it even more."

St John's Wood Synagogue's Dayan Ivan Binstock, has eight children, two of whom have joined the rabbinate.

But the 65-year-old says neither his nor his sons' careers, would have been possible without the support of their wives.

"My sons and I have only been able to do what we have done in our communities because we have thrown ourselves into it as a family, the girls and the boys.

"I think it is essential, for any family in the rabbinate, to have that support because it is a demanding job.

"I am very proud of our kids who have chosen to take part in life in the community, but I always encouraged them to do it with their eyes open.

"They knew the challenges, and they knew the satisfactions, and that had to be a choice that they made.

"For a home to be the hub of community life it needs the nurture of a wife.

"And if my son has achieved what he has, it has much to do with his wife's and mother's influence on him, as much as it had to do with me.

"Having a son follow in your footsteps fills you with a sense of pride. I think what I admire most about him is the way he approaches the job with a sense of humour."

Dayan Binstock, who has served a number of London communities in his career as a rabbi, adds that watching his own father take synagogue services helped prepare him for his role.

"My father was not a rabbi, but he was someone who was always taking services in the synagogue, so I learned to do it at an early stage.

"I was always engaged in Jewish education but I wanted to do something scientific with my life at first.

"I went to University College London, where I got a degree in chemistry, and all the while I stayed involved in my community.

"In my early twenties I was a chazzan in a synagogue in South London. And what was once a hobby became something much more serious.

"I moved to a shul nearer to where I lived in Finsbury Park, and the rabbi there said to me: 'Don't just dabble in this, you have an ability to take it seriously'.

"I finished my degree and went to pursue rabbinic studies at Etz Chaim Yeshiva, London, and Jews College and the Mir Yeshiva, in Jerusalem.

"I have never looked back. I get a lot of satisfaction from the pastoral side of my job, especially if it is dealing with sickness or bereavement and I like supporting people on their Jewish journey."

Rabbi Miriam Berger & Rabbi Tony Bayfield

Miriam Berger, 37, senior rabbi of Finchley Reform Synagogue, is a self-confessed "daddy's girl".

Growing up as the rabbi's daughter and feeling that she was at the centre of community life, inspired her own journey into the rabbinate.

Rabbi Berger says: "I don't think I ever decided to go into the rabbinate, it was just something I had always wanted to do.

"I knew going into it was not something to take lightly, so while I always wanted to do it, it was not something I talked about because it filled me with anxiety.

"It wasn't until I was doing theology at university that I began to articulate why."

Despite always knowing what she wanted to do, she was reluctant about admitting it to her father.

"I was asked once to write something about what it is like being the rabbi's child and I phoned round other rabbinic children to get some advice.

"One girl said to me: 'My mum loves her community so much I wonder if she has enough time to love me'.

"That terrified me, because at that point I wanted to go into the rabbinate and also be a mum.

"But it made me realise how significant it was that my dad was able to get that balance right in terms of us never feeling like that.

"Our home was very much an extension of the synagogue. And for me that was very positive.

"My dad was the figure who allowed me to feel central to that experience and that made me want to create it for others.

"I realised you don't have to be the rabbi's family to experience that sense of community."

Like her father, she went to Leo Baeck College, but it was a careers guidance test she took at 16 that indicated her future profession.

She says: "I was at school and we all took this test, it came back and said I should be an Anglican vicar.

"The school were frightened it would upset my family, but my dad totally got it."

Rabbi Berger adds: "My dad has influenced my sermons very much. One of the things he taught me was they have to be accessible to people.

"He shared a lot of personal family experience to open up that opportunity and that is something I try to do as well."

Rabbi Tony Bayfield, 79, is head of the Movement for Reform Judaism. He graduated from the Leo Baeck College for Jewish Education in 1972.

He says it was no surprise, when Miriam showed signs she wanted to go into "the family business".

"Miriam had the ability from a very early age and even if she didn't say it, she was certainly thinking about it, as young as her bat mitzvah.

"She said she wanted to be an actress when she was a little girl, but then the skills needed for that are the same needed for the rabbinate, so she was not far off. It is all a performance.

"Since my training, the role of a rabbi has changed. For me, it was more about performing functions, leading the service, giving sermons, running the cheder and doing some pastoral work.

"But now rabbis are encouraged to spend as much time as possible working with people developing their Jewish identity.

"I think in terms of her pastoral and interpersonal skills, Miriam is much more like her mother, who ran an excellent bereavement service for us.

"And I can honestly say she is the rabbi that I have always wanted to be. It is a wonderful feeling seeing your daughter up there.

"When I first went to see her it was nerve racking, but now she is very fluent and confident.

"I can sit there and see the things she has learned from me and you can't beat that feeling."

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein & Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein

When he first left university, Aaron Goldstein, now 43, says he didn't feel "mature enough to be a rabbi" and put his ambition on hold for a career with British Steel.

"Because of my dad, I was always involved in the Jewish community, and I wanted to be a rabbi.

"But, part of the reason I went off to work for British Steel is because I didn't feel ready.

"I didn't have any respect for myself yet, let alone expect other people to respect me as their rabbi.

"And part of me, although it is a little ironic now, wanted to work for a great British industry that would always be around."

"Having said that, I loved growing up in a rabbinic household and it certainly inspired me.

"I saw my dad lead his community and have so much fun. And I always felt if you can have that much fun and be a rabbi why wouldn't you want to be one?

"I don't think I became one because I had some deep spiritual calling. I just loved the sense of community and the atmosphere of going to shul. Norwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue was my home and I wanted that for my own children." He has two daughters, Liora 13 and Shaya, 10.

"When my father left the synagogue, it was important for the community to detach from my parents. My dad and mum were a very traditional rabbi and rebbetzen and it is different for me. My wife has a full-time job and her own company. So the community needed to get used to coming to me.'

"But now I love having my mum and dad in shul with me, and if I'm giving a sermon I can't help look for their nod of approval."

He adds: "I often find myself thinking Dad did a lot more and why can't I be like that?

"But I remember playing Sunday league football and he would only be able to come to one or two games, because he was so busy.

"I wanted to be more present for my children, so you have to find a balance that works for you."

Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein, 70, was so conscious of the pressure on his son to live up to his reputation, that he left the country and didn't enter the synagogue for six months after Aaron was ordained.

He says: "It was difficult with me as an emeritus rabbi who was still around, because I was very conscious of the need to keep out of things.

"We wanted to make it very clear that he was now the rabbi and I'm not.

"He also needed the space to develop his own style and establish himself.

"But now every Shabbos, if I'm not doing anything I go and sit in the congregation. People say to him: 'You are just like your dad' - which I think is terrible.

"He is much better at the pastoral care than I was, and he does a lot more visiting people.

"Being a rabbi didn't run in the family, although I was very involved in my synagogue youth club. I was at university studying science when I decided to become a rabbi.

"I finished my degree in Botany and Zoology and, in 1965, I went to the Leo Baeck College, where I finished in 1970, and then went straight into being the rabbi for NPLS. We had 30 or 40 families to start and when I left we had more than 800.

"My family grew up in the congregation."

Rabbi Goldstein, who founded and with his wife ran the Liberal Jewish Kadimah Summer School for 19 years, adds: "I remember Aaron was working in Cardiff, for British Steel as a senior manager and he came to me and said: 'Dad, I have something to tell you. I decided I'm going to do it.' "

"It wasn't a surprise at all, and actually, it was good for him because he had developed skills in management that I never had, because I went straight into the rabbinate from school and for me it has been my life.

"I was aware for a long time that Aaron was living life as my son, but increasingly now, it is me who has become known as his dad."

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