By Cindy Mindell
GLASTONBURY – Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky was named among the Jewish Daily Forward’s list of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis.” The inventory, issued by the newspaper last month, includes 36 rabbis who are helping to shape 21st-century Judaism. Wolvosky is executive director of the Benet Rothstein Chabad Jewish Center in Glastonbury.
The Forward compiled the list by soliciting nominations via its website.
Manchester resident David Burstein was among those Connecticut residents who cast their ballot for Wolvovsky, writing: “Rabbi Yosef Wolvovsky’s energy and motivation have created a community committed to the beauty of traditional Judaism. Originally numbering hardly a minyan of individuals, today it’s not unusual to find 60 or 70 at a community function. The rabbi’s followers come from a wide range of backgrounds and represent points of view that can be challenging and provocative. His classes on the weekly parsha, holidays or traditional Jewish concepts entertain a wide range of views but are always dominated by his particular insight – revealing and powerful. Open-hearted and confident in his faith, open-minded and inspiring in his teaching and transformative in his community, he applies Torah wisdom to the modern world.”
What did Wolvovsky, 37, do to land the kavod? “I have no idea,” he says. “I was very surprised. I did absolutely nothing.”
Asked another way, what was the original vision Yosef and Yehudis Wolvovsky had when they first came to Glastonbury in 2001?
“Generally speaking, the model of Chabad is to be organic or responsive to specific needs of community,” Wolvovsky says. “One may start as a shul, another as a school and youth center, and another as a learning center for adults. There are so, so many different needs and diversity of opportunities. We try to be responsive to the needs and wants of the community, based on a system of values that we would endorse and promote.”
Chabad: East of the River, as the Glastonbury center was originally named, was established first and foremost as an educational organization.
“When we arrived, we definitely knew that there were many young families moving into the community, and that we’d have a young clientele to serve with a Hebrew school and youth programs,” Wolvovsky says. “We also figured out early on that people were interested in learning, were attracted to the knowledge and wisdom of the Torah. But we never imagined that, for instance, a synagogue would be a central part of our organization.”
Over the last decade, the Benet Rothstein Chabad Jewish Center has created robust educational programs for adults and youth. The unpredicted element has developed over the last five years: “We have a strong, vibrant, consistent shul every Shabbat and yom tov [Jewish holiday],” Wolvovsky says. “It’s a bright spot in our community, brighter because it’s unexpected.”
Wolvovsky’s vision for the next 10 years is clear-cut: provide more of the same.
“The Rebbe, who passed away in 1994, set out a very simple but high-bar type of mission for his shluchim [emissaries] to spread Yiddishkeit,” he explains: “When we come to a community, we have to take responsibility for the Yiddishkeit of every Jewish person. We can’t be satisfied with the fact that we’ve made inroads, made a difference, built a community. We cannot say, ‘This is beautiful and it’s enough,’ because there are hundreds and thousands of Jewish people in our community and throughout the region who are still in need of more spirituality, more of a connection to our tradition. I think we really have to make sure that, with our success, we don’t lose sight of our original mission – to reach out to every Jewish person and every Jewish family, to educate, to offer a place for Shabbat and holidays, and to open our doors to more and more people.”
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