Rabbi Judah Kerbel became just the seventh rabbi hired at the Queens Jewish Center since the synagogue’s establishment in 1943. Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt was their longest serving spiritual leader, from 1967 to 2006.
Born in Bowie, Maryland, the son of a rabbi, Judah Kerbel grew up in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. Living across the US has taught him “to engage and to reach people, working together.” “I’ve always appreciated being able to get to be with the diversity, even within the Orthodox community. People come with their own stories of how they’ve been engaged with Judaism in their lives. I think that’s important to consider.” Kerbel recognizes that “people are complex and people come to Judaism from wide backgrounds and journeys.”
“I’m not looking for a cookie-cutter version of Judaism.” “The more people we can reach, the more people who are able to gain from what we can offer – then I think we’re going to be better off.”
Rabbi Judah Kerbel has s’michah from Yeshiva University and learned at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Efrat, Israel. Kerbel was a rabbinic intern at The Roslyn Synagogue and at the Young Israel of Plainview while learning for s’michah. He graduated cum laude from the University of Maryland with a BA in Jewish History and Psychology. The rabbi is currently a Judaic Studies teacher at Ramaz Middle School, as well.
His hashkafah: “I aspire to embody YU’s Torah U’Mada and with that, I emphasize Torah first.” “I affirm the importance of living our lives around halachah, and it should be Torah that primarily defines us but I also, in my own education, recognize the way we can learn from the general culture and the best of what the world has to offer. I think it goes beyond just an intellectual matter – I think it’s important to understand people’s life experiences and how those experiences shape people’s relationships with Judaism. An understanding of the world around us makes us more sensitive and compassionate Jews. I think it’s important to appreciate what diversity has to contribute.”
Growing up “in a musical family,” with his mother and grandmother playing the violin, Kerbel took violin lessons at a young age but now enjoys strumming the guitar and exercising in his private time. He enjoys singing. “I find it meaningful to be a baal t’filah. I think that the baal t’filah has an important role in setting the tone for people’s davening and creating the kavanah.” He enjoys Jewish musicians like Benny Friedman, Baruch Levine, Simcha Leiner, and Eitan Katz. “There’s a lot of great Jewish music being done today.” “I have an intellectual bent to my Judaism, but Jewish music and meaningful t’filah brings out my spiritual side.”
Judah Kerbel learned from his father, who was a rabbi: “He is able to relate to people in a wide variety of ways” and is very good in “cultivating relationships.” “Another thing that I’ve always appreciated about my Dad’s rabbinate: He’s always talked about the big picture in the Jewish community.” AIPAC, ADL, the Federation “were household names in my home.”
“That’s something I want to bring to my rabbinate, thinking of not just about what is happening within our own walls but also being a player in the larger Jewish scheme.” Judah Kerbel did a fellowship with AIPAC while earning s’michah.
Rabbi Kerbel and his wife, Eliana, hosted a tish last Shabbos with singing and divrei Torah. “The tish is an example of her love to opening our home,” said Rabbi Kerbel of his wife. “She’s the best I can ask for.”
Rebbetzin Eliana Kerbel (nee Shields) is a native of Baltimore, Maryland. She teaches fifth grade at Yeshivat He’Atid in Teaneck, New Jersey, while pursuing a dual master’s degree at Bank Street College in childhood education and teaching literacy.
Herbert Schonhaut, Senior Gabbai at the Queens Jewish Center, said in an e-mail interview, “In a relatively short time frame, Rabbi Kerbel has already demonstrated his ample leadership capabilities, paired with his sterling personal qualities. This dynamic combination has led to instant success and popularity for the rabbi, as he has ushered in a noticeable atmosphere of optimism, energy, and enthusiasm at the QJC.” Rabbi Kerbel “has impressed the membership with his strong work ethic, detailed preparation, quiet leadership style, outsized determination, integrity, and warm personality.”
Rabbi Kerbel knew about Queens because his grandmother lived in Jamaica Estates. Over the next few months, Queens Jewish Center plans to have programs that include an Israeli wine tasting, a blood drive, and scholars-in-residence.
By David Schneier