Rabbi Mati Kirschenbaum, who has gone from Poland to London, is now happy to be a part of a warm community in at Fullerton’s Congregation Beth Tikvah in North Orange County. And he doesn’t just mean the weather. Congregants threw him a surprise birthday party in mid-July as he turned 36.
Kirschenbaum said he also enjoyed the July 4th experience of fireworks festivities and running a barbecue.
And he’s keen on fusing the contemporary with the old.
“I am a huge fan of bringing our tradition closer to my congregants by finding parallels between Jewish wisdom and contemporary culture,” he said. “I believe that one can use Taylor Swift’s songs to teach people Torah.”
He said it is important for people of all ages to be introspective and reflective as they examine their lives and their spiritual growth.
Born in Wroclaw, Poland, he studied at the rabbinical seminary Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, Germany, as well as Leo Baeck College in London, where he got his rabbinical training.
“I’ve been involved in Jewish life in Poland and other places and it’s a goal to spread my knowledge in this wonderful community at TBT,” he said, adding that he speaks English, Hebrew, German, Russian, Polish, German and is learning Spanish.
He had the honor to perform what is believed to be the first bar mitzvah at a Reform synagogue in Poland since the end of World War II.
“It meant a lot to do that,” he said.
He said the history of Jews in Poland is, of course, complex.
“We know the history, that awful things have happened to Jews there as well as other parts of the world,” he said. “My view is that there is tikkun, repair, that can be done in the world. We can obviously not undo the past. We can work now to try to rebuild what has been destroyed, and to show what the Jewish people are strong, and willing to speak with other communities for the sake of humanity and to inspire unity.”
“We can work now to try to rebuild what has been destroyed, and to show what the Jewish people are strong, and willing to speak with other communities for the sake of humanity and to inspire unity.”
Kirschenbaum said he’s thankfully not experienced antisemitism but is aware if is a growing problem in America. He said his time in London was insightful because he was able to hear about a range of diverse views.
An avid hiker, Kirschenbaum said the weather is wonderful and much better than Poland or London. He said that the congregation is friendly, caring and the people are enthusiastic and excited to learn.
“My number one priority as a rabbi is to build on amazing lay engagement of TBT leaders,” he said. “I believe that we have the potential to be the leading center of Jewish life in northern Orange County.”
He said when explaining the parsha of the week, he enjoys bringing in rabbinical commentaries that people might not be so familiar with. On occasion, he will link lyrics of Swift or other artists, to use in a sermon or a lesson, if the lyrics are relevant and connected to messages of Torah.
He feels empowered by the many traditions he’s learned as well as Jewish history. Committed to helping congregants grow in their Jewish journeys, from his first interview, he could tell the synagogue’s leaders areequally committed to giving congregants the best experience possible. He said he will brush up on his baseball.
“The plan is to go to a Dodgers game at some point soon,” he said. “The congregants are so kind, and some have already offered to take me to a game.”