Joel Dobin, first staff rabbi at Beth Emek, dies at 85

He kept a jar of candy on his desk so children would feel comfortable sitting in a rabbi’s study. That was one small part of Rabbi Joel Dobin’s strategy to reach out to every congregant, young and old, at Congregation Beth Emek.

The first rabbi ever hired on staff at the Livermore synagogue, now located in Pleasanton, Dobin died June 25 surrounded by family and holding the hand of his wife, Frances. He was 85.

Rabbi Joel Dobin

Dobin, who died of complications related to Parkinson’s disease, served Beth Emek from 1990 to 1995.

“He got everything rolling,” recalled Beth Emek congregant Karen Holtz. “He instituted educational programs in a more organized fashion, such as Shabbat morning Torah study. It became part of the congregational routine.”

Dobin was born in Middletown, N.Y., in 1926 and brought up in Trenton, N.J. He graduated from Princeton University in 1948, then became the first Princeton alumnus to become a rabbi.

After attending Hebrew Union College, he served Reform Jewish communities in Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. He later served congregations in Florida and Texas before accepting a half-time position at Beth Emek in 1990.

Prior to his arrival, the synagogue, which traces its roots back to 1957, was largely lay led, using student rabbis for High Holy Day services and Shabbat.

Hiring a real rabbi was a big deal.

“He was very scholarly,” Holtz said. “That’s one thing people noticed about him. We felt it was a coup to attract someone who had this depth of scholarship.”

Dobin retired in 1995, moving to Rossmoor with his wife of 61 years, Frances, and later to the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville.

In addition to his work as a congregational rabbi, Dobin was an author, publishing two books about the relationship between Judaism, Kabbalah and astrology. He also served as a military and Hillel chaplain, and he was president of the Interfaith Council in Livermore.

Dobin is survived by his wife, Frances Dobin of Alamo; brother Edward Dobin and sister Marcia Durben; son Loui Dobin of Texas; daughters Sarah Shields of North Carolina, Deborah Dobin of Lafayette and Rachel Satterwhite of Texas; and six grandchildren.

Donations in Dobin’s memory can be made to the One Community Fund, Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living; Temple Isaiah of Lafayette; Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek; or URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.