Tell us about your experience with Talmud Torah of Minneapolis?
I started Talmud Torah in about 3rd grade — I grew up in Plymouth and went to Armstrong High School and Adath. Fun fact! My great grandfather was the first president of Talmud Torah. My whole family has history there. My dad, aunt, uncle, and both sisters all went to Talmud Torah of Minneapolis and my mom went to Talmud Torah in St. Paul.
Looking back, some of my best friends in life are my friends from Talmud Torah. Growing up, going to a different school, Talmud Torah offered me the chance to make and maintain friendships with people from other public schools that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to meet.
What’s your favorite memory from Talmud Torah?
My favorite memory was learning the Aleinu with Adele Saad. I always say to him that I wouldn’t have been able to become a rabbi without that.
Did your Jewish education at Talmud Torah affect your decision to become a rabbi?
Not directly, but Talmud Torah was the start of the path for me. It gave me a basis, grounding, and foundation in Judaism. Equally, if not more important, were the friendships. Two friends from Talmud Torah went to the Alexander Muss High School program in Israel and that’s what led me to go as well. If I hadn’t met them, I never would’ve gone to Israel. That trip with Alexander Muss was really when I started to take Judaism into my own hands.
Also, in an interesting way, Talmud Torah was the thing that made me realize I was Jewish. Going to Talmud Torah when my gentile friends didn't, was really a marker of difference between us. That difference, in a way, helped me recognize I was a Jew.
In development as an 8, 10, 12 year old and so on, it is a dedicated time that marks that difference of who you are. It’s a place that you go to to be with people like you. There’s so much benefit there. The Jewish friendships I have started there. From the Gan and Talmud Torah to Herzl to Muss, all with these same people who then end up standing up at my wedding.
Pictured: Justin with Talmud Torah friends on their way to the Alexander Muss High School program in Israel. Justin's lifelong friendships have been rooted in Judaism, many stemming back to Jewish preschool.
How did Talmud Torah’s scholarship help you in continuing your education?
I’m in my 6th year at the rabbinical school of Hebrew College in Boston. Six years of post college education is not incredibly cheap — my only full time work experience in between college and rabbinical school was at Hillel. Any financial assistance was super helpful in helping me get through rabbinical school. The scholarship Talmud Torah provided me with went directly to support that tuition.
It was really exciting that a product of this community was able to leave, get a rabbinic education, and come back to serve this community. In a sense, Talmud Torah is the first place I learned Torah.
So for a scholarship to come from Talmud Torah and go toward my last year of rabbinical school is a way to come full circle and close the chapter. It's really beautiful that my love of Torah is sponsored by that first place of learning.
What is unique about Talmud Torah?
The community is so strong that eve
n talking with people I haven’t met but who went to or have kids who went to Talmud Torah, you really feel a connection. I had a conversation with Steve Gilfix (immediate past co-president of Talmud Torah) when I learned about the scholarship. We’ve never met each other, we only talked on the phone, and we were two strangers. But through our mutual connection to Talmud Torah, we were able, in our virtual world, to create a serious bond in 20 minutes over this place that is so loaded in history and my personal history.
Talmud Torah is such a core story of our Twin Cities Jewish story. I have no idea where my story would be if it didn't start at Talmud Torah. But as we say baruch hashem it did!
Pictured: Justin with Talmud Torah friends/family who stood up at his wedding.
Anything else you want to say?
Living in Boston for five years made me appreciate the Twin Cities Jewish community even more. This community is such a place of warmth, care, and love. I’ve felt so cared for by the people who are invested in my journey and the assistance of the people who have reached out since I've been back.
That was really lacking in Boston and something I missed. Our small Twin Cities community, to me, is home. It is such an honor to be from here. We have serious pride and love for this community that I feel is quite unique.
I was able to spend 10 years of my adult life not working because people who support Jewish education invested in me and that says so much about our small and mighty community. I’m so thankful for that!
Note from Talmud Torah:
Kol Hakavod to Justin, who is currently serving as the Director of Jewish Education for Herzl Camp and Minnesota Hillel and finishing his rabbinic degree and Masters in Jewish Education at Hebrew College in Boston.
Talmud Torah alumni who are pursuing careers as Jewish professionals are eligible for scholarships in support of their college-level education. Scholarships available to undergraduate and graduate level students and open to any Jewish professional career path. The Talmud Torah fund for the Advancement of Jewish Professional Careers is supported by two funds: the Leo and Beth Frisch Career in Jewish Education Fund for the Talmud Torah and the Rachel Raviv Hoffer Memorial Endowment Scholarship Fund.