The Rise of Rabbi Berlin, a Dynamic Spiritual Leader
How Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies (GSJS) Helped Benny Berlin Find His Voice and Build a Community
It was at Touro’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies (GSJS) that Benny Berlin honed his mind and found his voice. Now considered one of the modern Orthodox world’s most educated and dynamic young spiritual leaders, Rabbi Berlin credits GSJS with honoring his calling and refining his oratory gifts. “Without the loving guidance and the level of brilliance of the professors,” Berlin says, “I wouldn’t have the skills or the open heart to be where I am today.”
In the 18 months he’s been rabbi at The BACH Jewish Center in Long Beach, the Congregation has grown by some 15 percent. The new members are young adults and their little ones, who rejoice in the sense of community and in their devoted rabbi. The 31-year-old father of two young sons, and his wife, Sara, are known to visit their new congregants with a home-cooked meal in hand. “You help create a community by being welcoming and warm,” he says.
He also understands that to keep and grow a community, a rabbi must be a teacher in the truest sense of the word. “People don’t want to hear things they already know,” says Berlin. “I learned from the most academically minded professors at Touro. I was stretched, I learned new information, I learned history, context. I try to teach that way, as well: insightful, engaging, intellectually honest and stimulating.”
Toward that end, Berlin teaches a daily Talmud class at the Synagogue. He also teaches a Parsha class. He prepares for hours for each. “I learned a lot of pedagogical tools at Touro,” he says. “How to structure a class, how to study, how to engage and retain knowledge and how to pass that knowledge on by requiring a higher level of thinking. I don’t spoon-feed, I give points to ponder.”
Among his heroes at Touro, Berlin remains indebted to Dean Michael A. Shmidman and Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Klammer, Ed.D. “The dean is a deeply caring, deeply learned individual who took me under his wing,” he says. Rabbi Klammer nurtured Berlin’s oratory skills. When he spoke to groups of elementary, middle and high schoolers, Klammer recorded Berlin’s speeches. Together they pored over the talks. Berlin always had the faith. But it was Klammer who upped his delivery, helping transform Benny Berlin into Rabbi Berlin. “Intelligent compassion,” he says. “That’s the overriding lesson I learned from Touro.”