2016 Rabbis

by Vivian Henoch

They have answered their calling and found their way to Jewish Detroit . . . bringing us their gifts of leadership and friendship, their experience and intellect, their curiosity and humor, their voices and comfort, their compassion and, above all, a love of Judaism.

As we say l’shana tova, celebrating a New Year, let us welcome: Rabbi Aura Ahuvia, Rabbi Megan Brudney, Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen, Rabbi Brent Gutmann, Rabbi Shalom Kantor and Rabbi Ariana Silverman.

Downtown Rabbi

 Meet Rabbi Ariana Silverman, Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (IADS)

Rabbi Ariana Silverman
Rabbi Ariana Silverman

In brief: Rabbi Ariana Silverman grew up on the Southside of Chicago, graduated from Harvard University and was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  An alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship program, she has served as the Assistant Rabbi of Temple Kol Ami, Rabbi of the Grosse Pointe Jewish Council and Rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Jackson, MI, where she will continue part-time through June 2017. A resident of the Woodbridge neighborhood of Detroit since 2010, Rabbi Silverman and her husband, Justin Long, are parents of Rebecca, 2, and August, 6 weeks.

On becoming a rabbi: “I was 16 when my congregational rabbi told me I should be a rabbi. I thought he was joking, because he was a man with a grey beard and I was not. And as far as I knew, only men with grey beards could be rabbis. At Harvard, I was involved with Hillel, and though I loved Jewish studies, I also felt there were so many other things to do.  After graduation, I moved to DC, where I worked for the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, focusing on their environmental portfolio. A year later I took a job with the Sierra Club and it was there that I realized why I cared so much about environmentalism – I believe deeply that the world is sacred and holy; how we use the resources of our planet is not just a matter of policy, it’s matter of ethics. Suddenly it became clear: if that’s how I framed the world, then I belonged in rabbinical school.”

“Becoming a rabbi is one of those decisions in life that I will never regret.  This is right where I belong.”

Reflections on new beginnings: “I’ve had the privilege of serving several congregations since moving to Detroit. I love them all, yet none are close to my home in the City. I drove North to West Bloomfield, East to Grosse Pointe, now West to Jackson. I have finally come full circle and will be serving a synagogue in Downtown Detroit. IADS has been a part of my life for years. I am honored to become their rabbi.”

From New Zealand, Back to Michigan

Meet Senior Rabbi Brent Gutmann, Temple Kol Ami

Rabbi Brent Gutmann
Rabbi Brent Gutmann

In brief: Raised in Dayton, Ohio, Rabbi Brent Gutmann received his undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Political Science and Economics from Indiana University. For three years prior to entering Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, he worked in retail banking and marketing, all the while serving as a youth group advisor and religious school teacher. Rabbi Gutmann has served several congregations including Temple B’nai Israel in Petoskey, MI, Congregation Adath Israel in Cincinnati and Beth Shalom in Auckland, New Zealand. Happy to return to Michigan, Rabbi Gutmann lives in West Bloomfield with his wife, Jill, and daughters, Daria, 5, and Tzipora, 2.

On becoming a rabbi: “I grew up in an observant Jewish household. My parents were active members of our synagogue board; I served as Youth Group President, as well as the youngest person in my congregation ever to be a full teacher. I was working in Chicago for a marketing firm when the recession hit in 2008, spending weekends teaching Sunday school and advising youth groups, when my wife observed that I seemed to be enjoying weekends more than my weekday work. She was right, and I took her advice to enter rabbinic school. (Actually, she wanted to be a rebbetzin (a rabbi’s wife), because in her Orthodox upbringing, her rebbetzin did a lot of entertaining, so we’ve both found our way to our desired vocation.”

On new beginnings:  “At Kol Ami, we’ve felt an instant chemistry. It’s wonderful to be in a place where there is such a strong, healthy, deeply-rooted and well-functioning Jewish community. It’s remarkable how many multigenerational families I meet, who come together for Shabbat every weekend, or whose children have grown, but stayed here to work and raise families. And, coming into a position where I am only the third rabbi in 50 years, signals an aspiration on the part of the congregation and the very real possibility that I am here to stay.”  

From Miami to West Bloomfield

Meet Rabbi Shalom Kantor, Congregation B’nai Moshe

Rabbi Shalom Kantor
Rabbi Shalom Kantor

In brief:  Originally from Sun Valley, Idaho, Rabbi Shalom Kantor graduated from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, with a B.A. in History and minor in Religion before earning his M.A. in Rabbinic Studies and ordination from the American Jewish University, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.Rabbi Kantor has served in numerous spiritual leadership roles: as Hillel Campus Rabbi at Binghamton University in New York; and in Miami as The Director of Jewish Life at Lehrman Community Day School, Rabbinic Fellow at Congregation Beth Torah and Hospice Chaplain with Trust Bridge Health. Settling in to their new home in Farmington Hills, Rabbi Kantor and his wife, Shana, are the parents of Rena, 9, Noam, 7, and Ari, almost 2.

On becoming a rabbi: “My path toward the rabbinate started in my college years at Willamette, where I founded the first Jewish Student Union on campus. In Salem OR., I became involved with the local synagogue and, through that process, I got a great piece of advice from the rabbi there. ‘Go work a secular job, but live an observant life before becoming a rabbi’, he suggested. ‘Then see if you want to be a rabbi or just a knowledgeable, observant Jew.’”

“So I took his advice, moved to Jerusalem and got a job as a wine steward at the King David Hotel. Working at the hotel, I found myself reaching out to guests, inviting them to my house for Shabbos dinners, building a community, and it was in that way that I realized my calling was to help others along their Jewish journey.”

On new beginnings: “The congregation has bent over backwards to welcome us. There is genuine excitement about the direction we are heading, with the recognition that change is something that happens slowly. I believe we are an ideal size, small enough that people know one another, yet big enough for to offer a variety of access points and to ensure that everyone is taken care of.”

From JTS to CSZ

Meet Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen, Congregation Shaarey Zedek

Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen

In brief:  Rabbi Yonatan Dahlen grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, and joins Congregation Shaarey Zedek following his ordination from The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. A graduate of Augustana University in Sioux Falls, with a Master’s degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Brandeis University in Boston, he served as a rabbinic intern at Town and Village Synagogue and at Columbia/Barnard Hillel. During his JTS studies, he also served on the staff at Kibbutz Channaton in Israel. Rabbi Dahlen is proficient in six languages – Spanish, Italian, French, German, Hebrew and Yiddish –  and often leads services with his guitar in hand.

 On becoming a rabbi: “It’s been a long journey for me. I was headed down the academia route, filling out 16 PhD applications, when my advisor, whom I highly respected, suggested I could make myself more ‘marketable’ as a rabbi. The idea seemed strange to me, but the idea of a making a career of learning and teaching, as well as the pastoral part of it, offered all the things I loved about Judaism. And yet, even at my interview at JTS, I made it clear that I had no intentions of being a pulpit rabbi. Well, after I delivered my d’var Torah for them, they gave me the nod and said, give yourself five years and see what happens. It wasn’t until my third year that I really fell in love with the pulpit. It’s been an amazing experience, and ever since, it’s felt right.”

 On new beginnings: “People will tell you how friendly Midwesterners are, but I’ve been blown away by the community here. I have been so blessed to feel supported and really cheered on since I started here. People want you to succeed in whatever you are doing, and that makes a world of difference.”

From Georgia to the D

Meet Assistant Rabbi Megan Brudney, Temple Beth El

Rabbi Megan Brudney
Rabbi Megan Brudney

In brief:  From Athens, Georgia – “home of the Georgia Bulldogs”- Rabbi Megan Brudney was ordained at the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Prior to her rabbinic studies, she lived in Washington, DC, where she worked for PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values. Rabbi Brudney holds a Bachelor’s degree from Duke University, and earned her Master’s from the Hebrew Union College. As the newest voice at the pulpit at Beth El, Rabbi Brudney is thrilled to bring her knowledge, experience, music and spiritual practice to the congregation.

On becoming a rabbi: “I grew up in a small Jewish community where there was one Reform synagogue. I was 16 when I went to my first NFTY event—a regional convention in Orlando, FL.  There were four of us in attendance, a huge turnout for our community. At first I was terrified at the size of the event and the manic energy in the kids in hotel. The first event was lunch; we sat in tables of ten in this giant ballroom – and from the first notes of the motzi – hearing the voices of 300 teens together, my life changed. Suddenly, I understood why I was there, and saw myself against the backdrop of Jewish history. How did we all get there and how did we all know the motzi, and how can such a simple little tune with its ancient text pull us so profoundly together? Those are the kinds of questions that continue to fascinate me.”

“At Duke I got involved with Hillel, started a Reform group and learned to song lead and today, music, singing and playing the guitar is a big part of my rabbinate.”

On new beginnings: “I had read about the storied history of Temple Beth El, and within the first minutes of my interview with Rabbi Mark Miller, Jordon Wertheimer, whose grandfather was the famed rabbi of the congregation, and lay leader, Cheryl Kerwin, whose father is a famed chair – the history of the congregation came alive for me. We seemed to connect immediately. Our interview was a blast. Still, I am humbled to be here – for me it’s still a huge adjustment figuring out who I am here, and how I want to serve.”

Home Again

Meet Rabbi Aura Ahuvia, Congregation Shir Tikvah

Rabbi Aura Ahuvia
Rabbi Aura Ahuvia

In brief:  Originally from Milwaukee, and a long-time resident of Ann Arbor, Rabbi Aura Ahuvia was happy to return to Michigan from Woodstock, N.Y. (her first pulpit). She and her husband, Aaron, live in Royal Oak and are the parents of Jonah, 20, in Ann Arbor  and Isaac, 22, in Chicago. Ordained as both rabbi and Mashpiah (spiritual guide), Rabbi Ahuvia holds Master’s degrees in Journalism and Judaic Studies from the University of Michigan. While in rabbinic school, she served as spiritual leader for the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation and spent a few years as the program director for Beth Israel Congregation. An accomplished singer and guitarist, with a special interest in Jewish Renewal and innovation within worship, Rabbi Ahuvia is currently a participant in the Clergy Leadership Incubator, a national initiative.

On becoming a rabbi: “I didn’t grow up picturing myself as a rabbi – I had taken others paths and hadn’t experienced a Judaism that I found personally engaging until I became a brand new mom. As young parents, my husband and I started attending CAJE conferences which brought us together with some of the leading lights from all streams of Judaism.”

“A second source of inspiration for me was picking up the guitar, at first just to learn to lead tot Shabbat for our young children. It was at a summer workshop—Hava Nashira – sponsored by Camp OSRUI where I worked as a teen – that I finally realized I had this entire repertoire of music in my being, just waiting for expression. That experience cracked open my heart in a way that I had never experienced before. I decided right then and there – about 15 years ago –  to master all the skills that I could—to do what I do today.”

On new beginnings: “Coming to Shir Tikvah feels beshert – we were meant to be. The congregation and I were looking for the same things at the same time. My family really wanted to be back in Michigan, and the door was open. And, ever since, our family has been embraced, welcomed and accepted. One of the things I find myself learning now is how to navigate as a community leader. It can be tricky, while I hold in value everyone’s voice equally, I am now hearing and using my own as a voice of authenticity and authority, working towards harmony with others.”