Rabbi Nico Socolovsky at Congregation Shir Hasash in Los Gatos. (Photo/Emma Goss)
Rabbi Nico Socolovsky at Congregation Shir Hasash in Los Gatos. (Photo/Emma Goss)

Argentine native brings global perspective as Shir Hadash rabbi

Rabbi Nico Socolovsky knows how to carry a tune. At Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, he strums his guitar on Friday nights as he sings from the bimah alongside Cantor Devorah Felder-Levy.

Communal singing is part of the Jewish legacy he carries from growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Socolovsky, who is 41, joined Shir Hadash in 2022 after seven years at Temple Beth Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Fullerton. On May 5, he was installed as senior rabbi during Shabbat services at Shir Hadash, also a Reform synagogue. “It was very humbling,” Socolovsky said of the celebration.

“I really tried to invite the community to think about this idea of a congregational brit, a covenant,” he said. “It’s not only about the rabbi being here, but it’s about the decisions we make together.”

He believes his approach to Judaism — centered on deep appreciation for Jewish texts, music and social justice activism — stems from the teachings of Marshall Meyer, an American Conservative rabbi and activist who founded Argentina’s leading Conservative synagogue and the country’s first non-Orthodox rabbinic seminary. Marshall, who died in 1993, officiated the wedding of Socolovsky’s parents.

“None of us is a bright light on its own,” Socolovsky said. “We all are interconnected by these stories and these legacies that we carry.”

Another important influence on him was Jewish summer camp. Socolovsky spent his childhood summers along with his sisters at Netzer Argentina, a Reform Zionist youth camp. After turning 20, he became the camp’s co-director. He and his sisters had also served as madrichim (youth counselors) in the Netzer movement.

None of us is a bright light on its own. We all are interconnected by these stories and these legacies that we carry.

When Socolovsky was 21, all of the siblings decided to make aliyah together. Their parents came too. Socolovsky landed in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Eve in 2001.

By the time he made aliyah, Socolovsky was seriously considering becoming a rabbi. He’d flirted with the idea of becoming a doctor because enjoys “helping people to heal” and also considered being an educator.

While enrolled at Haifa University studying educational management and Jewish thought, Socolovsky began attending salsa-dancing group lessons. His salsa class instructor was a woman named Noga, then a Technion engineering student and now his wife. The couple have three children, ages 13, 10 and 7.

Socolovsky studied for the rabbinate at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem but spent the final year of seminary in New York City. To thank Noga for relocating with him, he offered: “Wherever you find a job, I’ll follow you for two years.” After receiving his ordination in 2013, they moved to Singapore, where Noga had accepted a job in the tech industry.

From there, Socolovsky served and supported Jewish communities in Southeast Asia, mostly in Singapore and Bangkok.

When Socolovsky joined Orange County’s Beth Tikvah in 2015, he followed in the footsteps of the late Haim Asa, the rabbi emeritus who coincidentally had founded the congregation that merged with Socolovsky’s childhood synagogue in Buenos Aires.

The leadership of Shir Hadash’s longtime rabbi, Melanie Aron, and the culture of communal participation helped draw him to the Los Gatos congregation.

“I think that the legacy that [she] left is remarkable,” Socolovsky said. Aron was the congregation’s senior rabbi for 30 years, until becoming rabbi emerita in 2020.

This month, Socolovsky will travel to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern (where he became an executive scholar in nonprofit management in 2021) with several Shir Hadash board members and administrators for five days to study faith leadership.

“It’s a big deal,” Socolovsky said, noting that taking the time to focus on congregational leadership skills will inevitably translate into growth for Shir Hadash. “This feeling that I have about this very strong and committed group of leaders and congregants is coming true.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.