Rabbi David Locketz is the newly appointed Senior Rabbi at Bet Shalom synagogue in Minnetonka. He talks with us about the challenges he faces as a rabbi, his unexpected career path, and why Sukkot is his favorite holiday.
Are you from the Twin Cities?
I am. I grew up in New Hope. I left after high school and came back 13 years later as a rabbi. In the intervening time, I went to college at University of Wisconsin. After college, I lived in Chicago and worked as Assistant Camp Director of Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI), the Reform Movement’s camp in Wisconsin. I was also NFTY regional advisor.
What interested you in studying to become a rabbi?
When I was a kid, I had a lot of rabbis in my life I looked up to. In sixth grade, I remember telling my grandmother I wanted to be a rabbi. It was more like a little kid wants to be a fireman. I didn’t know what it meant. When I was older, in college and after, being a rabbi incorporated a lot of things I was interested in—teaching and working with people. I entered rabbinical school thinking I would be a Jewish camp director. (For a long time, the reform movement wanted to hire rabbis to be camp directors). Then, synagogue life caught my eye.
What has been the most surprising part of your career as a rabbi so far?
I guess I’m surprised at how dedicated the community of Jews can be and yet how hard it is to get their attention. People love the synagogue and being Jewish, yet rarely go to services. Their lives are just so busy; it’s hard to fit in.
I think synagogues need to figure out how to engage those people better. Instead of telling congregants what we think they need, we need to ask what it is they want.
How has Bet Shalom changed since you started as assistant rabbi in 2004?
We have grown by about 100 families since I came in 2004. Now we’re about 800 families. We’re no longer a small congregation, but still want to exhibit the qualities of a small congregation. A lot of energy goes into trying to create a “small congregation” feeling. We try to go out of our way to know everybody. We stand at the door at the beginning of services. We welcome everybody individually and try to respond in a way that a small congregation would respond.
What are you most excited about in your new position a senior rabbi?
This is sort of a “rabbi” answer, but I’m excited to make Judaism exciting to our members. A strong Jewish identity can help someone navigate this world. Judaism can be a force for making life better.
What are your plans for the next five years?
Two demographics are very interesting to me now. I’m trying to figure out how to meet the baby boomers’ needs. They’re a large group in Jewish community. They built and funded our congregations and we need to think about how to program for them.
And, I’m also trying to figure out how to best serve young adults, people in their 20s and 30s. What they want is not what their parents wanted. Until we figure it out, my goal is to interact individually with as many people as I can to maintain a relationship. The bar nights are fun, but I get more connection from the individual coffee meetings, just one-on-one.
What is your favorite holiday?
Sukkot is my favorite holiday. It’s right after the high-holiday rush is over, so I can focus on the holiday for myself in a way that I don’t get to during the high holidays. It’s also an important rallying point for my family. We have a sukkah, which is improved upon each year, and a big box of decorations for it. We really cherish the experience to eat outside and build together as a family.
Do your neighbors comment on your sukkah?
They’re used to it now, but I did once have a neighbor tell me he liked my “Halloween hut.”
What’s your favorite Jewish food?
Chopped liver. My wife makes good chopped liver. It’s the taste of my Jewish childhood.
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