A native New Yorker, Rabbi Weininger has a warm and charming demeanor that is well suited to his passion for pastoral care. He was a chaplain in New York at Bellevue Hospital Center, as well as at a retirement community and a kosher soup kitchen for isolated and homeless older adults on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
He’s no stranger to the Midwest, however, as he obtained his B.A. in Jewish Near Eastern Studies and Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. There he also performed in a Jewish a cappella group and he is looking for a good group to harmonize with in the Twin Cities. (We can’t wait to hear his vocals in the next “Semitic Idol” contest.)
At Adath, he oversees the Shabbat Morning Program and B’Yachad youth education programs, and is engaged in a wide range of other rabbinic roles with people of all ages and backgrounds. He recently launched his “Listening Campaign” in which he is meeting people for coffee or a smoothie, one-to-one, at whatever location they may desire – from the State Fair to the Walker Art Center.
Quite the trailblazer, Rabbi Weininger made national and international headlines more than once. He spoke about LGBT inclusion as part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable at the White House, and was the first openly gay person to be admitted to the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
From making his own ice cream to holding latke cook-off contests, he is quite personable and down to earth. Here’s how he answered a few questions:
1. We understand you don’t want to be pigeonholed, but if we used one word to describe you, what would it be?
Rabbi Weininger: The word ‘rabbi.’ It’s simple and the potential contained in that one word compels me to see religious leadership as a call “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of blessed memory, taught. No other words are necessary. As a rabbi, I want to accompany each person on his or her life’s journey and help create paths through this complex world. I feel fortunate to be joining my colleagues in the clergy at Adath and elsewhere in the Twin Cities Jewish community who are already doing incredible, holy work.
2. What’s your vision for Jewish life in the 21st Century?
RW: My vision for Jewish life is to help connect individual dreams to the warmth of a vibrant, caring community. That vision is built by taking hold of old traditions and new ideas in an ever-changing world. I think many people identify as spiritual seekers. They’re searching to be part of something authentic that sustains a vision of Jewish life that is accessible, meaningful and relevant in times of joy and sadness. This vision requires all people to come to the table with their imagination for what can be. As an openly gay person, I know what it’s like to have been on the margins. I draw from that experience to be aware of how we create welcoming communities in which each person is valued.
3. You chose to live in the Lake Calhoun area. Was that intentional as part of your outreach to 20s & 30s?
RW: It was an intentional choice based on my passion for working with people of all ages. By living near so many vibrant cultural institutions that Minneapolis and St. Paul have to offer, I want to help people realize that being a rabbi is as much about helping people discover spiritual renewal in a park, in a yoga class, organizing around major political issues as it is about facilitating soulful prayer or engaging text study. Whether it’s soaking in the beauty of nature or the joy of a holiday meal – it starts by building one-to-one relationships. Those are at the heart of my rabbinate.
4. You created a similar outreach group last year in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn when you were leading a Learner’s Minyan.
RW: During my first year at Park Slope Jewish Center, it was clear people in their 20s and 30s were interested in having a non-judgmental space to take ownership of their Judaism, and there was a desire to start with a simple Shabbat lunch. We thought we might get 10 or 15 max; we had over 30 people crammed into a tiny New York apartment eating delicious food and getting to know one another. Eventually we received a generous grant that allowed us to bring different voices to the table, where we were able to create opportunities for connection based on learning about people’s spiritual journeys and interests, rather than programming from the top down.
5. What’s an example of a program you created in Park Slope to enhance spiritual connections?
RW: We had a “Top Chef Latke” contest. People were encouraged to make all kinds of latkes – beet, sweet potato, etc. We sampled them and judged them. It was also an opportunity to explore all kinds of ways to be Jewish. Jewish life has always offered multiple points of connection.
6. What is something “Minnesotan” that you’re looking forward to doing or trying?
RW: I’m excited to try a variety of delicacies at the State Fair. I also hope to try my hand at ice fishing when the season comes.
7. Speaking of ice, we heard you make your own ice cream. What flavor might we find in your freezer right now?
RW: I’ve been experimenting with gelato lately. If it has a vanilla base, I’m in. Right now, I’m channeling Comedy Central with a few pints of Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream in my freezer.