The people behind the pulpit: introducing 4 new rabbis

This summer has seen a changing of the guard at a number of Bay Area congregations. More than a dozen new clergy members have replaced outgoing rabbis and cantors who have retired or moved on to other communities. In a two-part series, J. will introduce these new faces.

Rabbi Gershon Albert

Beth Jacob Congregation, Oakland

Rabbi Gershon Albert replaced Rabbi Judah Dardik at the beginning of July, following in the Modern Orthodox synagogue’s tradition of recruiting straight out of rabbinical school.

Rabbi Gershon Albert

“Beth Jacob has taken the plunge into [hiring] younger rabbis and has had tremendous success doing it,” Albert says, alluding to Dardik’s 13 years on the job.

Albert, who graduated from New York City’s Yeshiva University last summer, says he knew early on during his undergraduate career that he wanted to become a rabbi. “I think of myself as a recovering accounting major,” jokes the Montreal native, who moved into the area in July with his wife, Meira, whose father is a rabbi.

Growing up in a traditional household, Albert says he and his identical twin became more religious after their bar mitzvahs.

After high school, Albert studied at a Modern Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem for two years before starting rabbinical school. “Jewish mothers expect their children to become doctors or lawyers,” he says, “but not a lot expect their child to become a rabbi.”

Albert says he expects a lot of help — and advice — from his wife, whom he met at a Jewish summer camp in the Catskills. “My rabbinic philosophy is that we are in this position together, and she brings a lot to it,” Albert says. The two welcomed a daughter into their family two weeks ago.

Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman

Congregation B’nai Tikvah, Walnut Creek

For Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman, becoming a rabbi runs in the family.

Rabbi Rebecca Gutterman

Gutterman has replaced Rabbi Raphael Asher, who retired in July after leading the Reform synagogue in Walnut Creek since its inception in 1981. Her father, Rabbi Leslie Gutterman, has been the rabbi at Temple Beth-El in Providence, R.I., for more than 40 years.

So again B’nai Tikvah has a second-generation rabbi as its spiritual leader. Asher, too, followed in the footsteps of his father, Rabbi Joseph Asher, a longtime rabbi in San Francisco.

After being ordained by Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in 2004, Gutterman, 43, interned with San Francisco’s now-defunct Traveling Jewish Theatre. Later she organized a teen-oriented performance called “Shabbat On Stage,” and held other jobs before becoming a full-time rabbi.

“I tried a variety of things,” she says, “from academic tutoring to restaurant jobs so that I could be involved in the arts.”

In July, Gutterman moved to Walnut Creek from Rochester, N.Y., where she was an assistant rabbi at Temple B’rith Kodesh. She and her husband, Michael Simons, were separated by distance for the first three years of their marriage (he was the technical and set director for a JCC youth theater group in suburban Cleveland), but he moved West, too, and now they are together full time.

Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco

When Rabbi Aubrey Glazer drove from Toronto to San Francisco to become Congregation Beth Sholom’s senior rabbi last month, he felt like he was coming home.

Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

“Every time I enter San Francisco, I get the same feeling I have when I would drive into Jerusalem,” he says. “Moving to San Francisco was a confluence of the stars aligning and opportunities arising.”

Glazer, 45, born and raised in Toronto, is replacing senior Rabbi Micah Hyman, who left the pulpit for personal reasons after seven years at the Conservative synagogue.

A musician, artist and filmmaker, Glazer holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew hermeneutics (contemporary Hebrew poetry written in Israel) and a master’s degree in Jewish philosophy from the University of Toronto. For nine years, he was the rabbi at the Jewish Community Center in Harrison, N.Y.

He says music is a big part of how he approaches the rabbinate, and two of his abiding influences are famous singer-songwriters, the late American rocker Lou Reed and Canadian folk artist Leonard Cohen.

“It’s less than conventional,” Glazer admits, “but I like to channel art and music to integrate into my services.”

An avid hockey player, Glazer also enjoys fly-fishing and is looking forward to seeing what Northern California has to offer. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, artist Elyssa Wortzman, and their daughter.

Rabbi Steve Finley

Congregation Shir Shalom, Sonoma

For Rabbi Steve Finley, going to rabbinical school was his “third career.” And, he says, it was his years in the Israel Defense Forces that helped prepare him for the pulpit.

Rabbi Steve Finley

“Being a military man is a big part of who I am today,” says the new rabbi at Shir Shalom. He started July 1, taking over for Rabbi Bella Bogart, who served the synagogue for five years before moving to Florida earlier this year.

Finley, 55, who grew up in Long Beach, made aliyah after graduating high school. Following his army service, during which he served in Lebanon and Gaza, he opted to live on Kibbutz Mizra in the Jezreel Valley. That’s where he met his wife, Yaffa. They married in 1996.

After almost two decades in Israel, Finley moved back to the United States with his wife and embarked on his journey to become a rabbi. He was ordained in 2009 by the nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles, simultaneously earning a master’s degree from the American Jewish University, also in Los Angeles.

Finley served for three years as rabbi at the Beth Israel Community Center in Mexico City before taking the position at Shir Shalom. He also was a coach for the basketball team at his son’s American middle school in Mexico City. They live in Sonoma with one son; they also have a daughter in Los Angeles and another son in Israel. 

What does he hope to bring to his new Reform congregation? “The whole idea of kibbutz life can seep into our synagogue and everyday lives, which is something I plan to do here,” he explains. “Community effort equals community reward.”