My Goals as a Rabbi

As a Modern Rabbi, I see myself above all as serving Jews as they are today—not as they once were, not as I or anyone else imagines they “should” be. My mission is to help modern Jews preserve the living essence of Judaism in a very non-traditional world—and to live by it with joy. 

We as Jews must hold onto our truth and our path, even while freely and joyfully acknowledging that there are many truths and many valid spiritual paths. This is especially important in relation to the interfaith marriages that so many modern Jews enter into. Interfaith relations are now an internal Jewish matter, not just an external one.

Another part of my mission is to help modern Jews feel connected to the entire sweep of Jewish history—even though we live in a very different time—and with the Jewish people as a whole, especially our fellow Jews in the State of Israel—even though we live in a very different place. We are only one organ in a much larger body, a body that has endured for almost four thousand years. With God’s help, our people will long continue to endure, and to follow our own distinctive spiritual path.

My Path to Becoming a Rabbi

I grew up in a classical Reform environment in Beverly Hills, California, where I attended Hebrew school through Bar Mitzvah and confirmation at Temple Emanuel.  Even after I moved away I came home every year for Hanukkah and Passover and attended High Holy Day services with my parents for as long as they were alive.  I did this out of respect for them, as I had not yet really connected with my own Judaism.

Judaism came alive for me some time in 1994 when I started studying The Torah: a Modern Commentary by Rabbi Gunther Plaut of blessed memory.  The richness of background information, the openness to various interpretations, the respect for tradition without being a slave to it—all of these drew me powerfully in.  Suddenly, I could feel the living, divine presence in the text.  I fell in love with studying Torah and commentaries on Torah.  The whole world of Jewish literature opened up to me, and I drank it up.   

I connected with Congregation Havurim, a small, startup Reform Congregation in Temecula, California where I was living at the time.  I found myself almost immediately becoming a service leader and the head of the Religious Practices Committee. In addition to participating in leading Shabbat and High Holy Day services I attended Torah study, directed the process of making ritual decisions, and wrote a monthly column for the congregational newsletter.  I served in these various capacities until I moved to Sedona, Arizona in late 1996.  

I immediately became very involved with the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, an enthusiastic, unaffiliated congregation.  I was instrumental in initiating and leading lay led Shabbat services and a Wednesday morning minyan, organized Torah and Talmud study, and wrote a monthly column and discussions of the Torah portion and Talmud section being studied for the congregational newsletter.  I also led Selichot services and second day Rosh Hashanah services and organized open discussions of liturgy on Yom Kippur afternoons.    

I was Vice President for Religious Affairs of the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley from 1998 through 2002.   In that capacity I was the public, religious face of the community, which at the time did not have a resident rabbi.  For several years I wrote a weekly column for the religion page of Sedona Red Rock News, the local newspaper.  I was able to combine congregational announcements with a mini-essay on the Torah portion of the week.  I was also active in interfaith activities, including a joint weekly Bible study with several local Protestant ministers, public movie and discussion encounters with the local Buddhist community, and participation in the annual interfaith Thanksgiving celebration at the local Catholic church.   

I learned that my Judaism came most alive for me when I was leading services, teaching, and preparing for these activities, and that I really enjoyed serving the community in this capacity.  I was immensely gratified to see Judaism also come alive—often to their surprise—for many of the people I interacted with.  I also discovered how much I enjoyed participating as a Jew in interfaith activities.

Drawn by the broader intellectual horizons of a larger, college town and the incredible variety of Jewish experiences available there, I moved to Boulder, Colorado in 2003.  

For my first few years in Boulder I was a member of Nevei Kodesh, a local Jewish Renewal congregation.  For two years I was a member of the rabbi’s committee that planned and organized religious services.  I participated in running High Holy Day services and in leading children’s services.  I co-led a second Seder and several “Shabbat in the Park” summer services and taught the history of the Zionist movement as part of a series of classes on Jewish history.  I also had the opportunity to deliver a sermon on how to deal with anger generated by the Holocaust without being consumed by it, and led a series of classes based on the Talmud for Beginners books by Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams.  After my time in Nevei Kodesh I was a member of the Mountain Minyan, a small havurah that emerged from an adult B’not Mitzvah I officiated at in 2006.  In addition to leading Torah study and various Shabbat and festival services, I often co-led High Holy Day services for the group. ll

After fifteen years of commitment to various Jewish communities and to the study of Judaism, I decided it was time to take things to the next level.  I enrolled in the Modern Rabbi program of the Rabbinical Seminary International, an accelerated program suitable for individuals with substantial Jewish knowledge and leadership experience.  I understood that as an ordained rabbi, I could serve the Jewish people in a way that is virtually impossible without having attained that level of knowledge and acknowledgement.

The Rabbinical Seminary International, which describes itself as “a transdenominational rabbinical seminary in the Neo-Hasidic tradition,” is an independent seminary based in New York City.  At the time, it was still headed by its founder, Rabbi Joseph H. Gelberman of blessed memory.  Rabbi Gelberman, who was often referred to as “the New Yorker Rebbe,” was a Hasidic rabbi who escaped the Holocaust and then went on to pioneer his own style of open, non-denominational, interfaith-oriented Judaism in America.

Rabbi Gelberman was a brilliant, joyful, energetic being throughout his long and amazing life.  He was ninety-eight years old when I received semicha (ordination) as a rabbi on July 1, 2010 from him and his Beit Din (rabbinical court) in New York City.   As it turned out, I was blessed to be a member of the last ordination class that Rabbi Gelberman presided over.  It was a truly magical experience—a long-time dream come true. 

In December, 2011 I moved back to Sedona, Arizona.  Though I learned a lot during my time in Boulder, I realized that Sedona still felt more like home.  I am overjoyed to be back in the spectacular red rock country of Northern Arizona, where I have so many dear and wonderful old friends.  I feel blessed to be using Sedona as my base for providing Jewish teachings and services to those in need of them, all throughout the Southwest.

Jewish wedding Sedona

Bernard R. Kling - 2370 W State Route 89A - Suite 11, PMB 520 Sedona, AZ 86336 - 928-274-4745 - bernie@rabbibernie.com

 

Contact Rabbi Bernie Interfaith Marriages