Burlingames new rabbi thrilled to come back home

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Ask anyone at Burlingame’s Peninsula Temple Sholom, and they’ll tell you: The late Rabbi Gerald Raiskin — who was there for almost 50 years — left some mighty large shoes to fill.

But his successor prefers to look at the positive side.

“I have enormous respect for Rabbi Raiskin and the depth of his love for the congregation, and the congregations’ love for him,” said Rabbi Daniel Feder, adding that Raiskin “was known throughout the Reform rabbinate.”

“I look at it as a wonderful opportunity for me to be senior rabbi of this congregation and build on the wonderful foundation his clergy team and congregants built. I’m trying to find the balance between intimidation and respect.”

Feder, 42, and his wife, Sandra (nee Bodovitz) are both Bay Area natives; he is from San Francisco, she is from Mill Valley. With their three daughters, they are thrilled to be coming home.

Though he grew up attending Congregation Emanu-El, Feder credits Sherith Israel’s rabbi emeritus Martin Weiner with his becoming a rabbi.

“My friendship with his children enabled me to get to know him, and that relationship made me consider a career in Jewish life that I would not have had otherwise,” Feder said. Weiner has attended every installation of Feder’s since he has become a rabbi, and the two remain close.

“In his vision of the rabbinate I saw a very appealing vision for myself, that I could be a community leader, a lifelong student, pastor, educator and preacher,” said Feder, “and help people celebrate the powerful and inspiring message of the Jewish faith; help people find the joys in life all the richer, and endure the tough times.”

While he experienced a bar mitzvah, confirmation and a teen trip to Israel, it was working as a counselor at Camp Swig that really opened his eyes to the beauty of Judaism.

“It was there that for the first time I really experienced Judaism deep in my soul,” he said. “This had an impact on me in a way the other things didn’t, it was a really strong and positive experience.”

At that time, a member of the programming staff asked him if he had considered becoming a rabbi, but it was too foreign of an idea to really consider.

Even so, he began to think about it. While a student at U.C. Berkeley, Feder met regularly with Weiner to muse about the rabbinical path.

Law school won out — at first. But after just one year, he realized it wasn’t the right thing, and applied to rabbinical school.

Feder knew his wife through Emanu-El’s youth group, but they met again in their 20s, when he was in law school. Although she has worked as a journalist, she is now a stay-at-home mom who writes on the side. They have three daughters, Rachel, 11, Abby (Abigail), 9, and Ellie (Gabrielle), 6.

“She’s been through the whole process of my considering rabbinical school and the whole experience with me, which helps her understand what rabbinic family life is like,” he said. “She’s extremely supportive of what I do. We went into this wanting to make it work for the whole family, but we’re mindful of the stresses that being a rabbinical family can be on the children.”

Feder spent his first five years as a rabbi in Baltimore, and the past seven in Allentown, Pa. While he dreamed of coming back to the Bay Area, he also knew he wouldn’t do it unless the perfect job opportunity came available. And it did, in the form of Peninsula Temple Sholom.

“What I found so attractive about PTS was the love that the congregants have for the synagogue, the sense of investment, the breadth of creative programming and the superb senior rabbi who led the congregation for 50 years,” he said.

While Feder does not do intermarriages, he said he welcomes interfaith couples for counseling, and he “does everything I can to make sure the couple does not feel rejected.”

He added, “Outreach is a really important part of my rabbinate. It’s why I do counseling to interfaith couples and am very committed to preparing people for conversion. I’ve probably helped six to 12 people a year to convert, and it’s among the most meaningful things I’ve done.”

Rabbi Daniel Feder will be officially installed the weekend of Sept. 8. Information: www.sholom.org.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."