Finding the holy every day is focus of Ner Tamid rabbi

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Concerned that the pressures of modern life, such as commuting, leave people with little time for spiritual and religious fulfillment, the rabbi emphasized that "there is a holiness in everything that we do."

In fact, he will sermonize at this year's High Holy Days on seeing the spiritual in the mundane.

Rubenstein, who began his service at Ner Tamid July 1, shortly before his 36th birthday, has dealt with such daily pressures. Ordained in May, he spent the last five years commuting between Randolph, Mass., and the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York City.

Since there is no rabbinical school in the Bay State, and since he wanted daughters Batya, 4, and Tovah, 2, to live "with green grass outside," Rubenstein, his wife, Aviva, and their daughters lived with the rabbi's parents.

For the past two years he also commuted 40 miles each way to Marlborough, Mass., where he worked as a student rabbi and ran the Hebrew school at the independent Temple Emmanuel under the tutelage of his mentor, Rabbi Lowell Weiss.

New York's Academy for Jewish Religion is also an independent institution, unaffiliated with Judaism's major movements. Students and faculty from various backgrounds "learn from each other how Judaism can flourish in a very pluralistic society," Rubenstein said.

The young rabbi, who grew up in a Conservative synagogue, described his new congregation as pluralistic, with some 300 members from nations as diverse as Chile, Egypt, Greece, Israel and Russia. It is unusual for a member not to have an accent, he joked in his Bostonese.

The international membership brings in both Ashkenazic and Sephardic traditions, so that members "enjoy the best of both worlds," he said.

Rubenstein, who is Ashkenazic, plans to incorporate more Sephardic customs as he learns them from members of the 53-year-old congregation.

People practice what they want, "whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic…and we all join in," he said.

For instance, the congregation sometimes sings the hymn "Ein Keloheinu" in Ladino, a Sephardic dialect. Customs may vary at the synagogue's Passover seder, when some tables will have rice, according to the Sephardic tradition, and others will not.

Ner Tamid's members are also self-reliant and some recite particular prayers each week. They are "not dependent on the rabbi and chazzan [cantor] to do everything," he said.

Among them is the rabbi's own daughter, Batya, who turns 5 in October. Batya recites the motzi over the challah after services each Saturday morning.

Rubenstein aims to bring more families with young children to Ner Tamid. He is considering starting a Tot Shabbat program for preschool children. His duties will also include both teaching and administering in the Hebrew school.

He is well-equipped for that role. Rubenstein holds a master's degree from the Brandeis-Hornstein Jewish Communal Service program and a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Rubenstein, who replaces the interim Rabbi Alfred Koltach, will be formally installed some time in October.