By Stacey Dresner
WEST HARTFORD – While growing up as a rabbi’s son in Boca Raton, Fla., Tuvia Brander had no plans to go into the rabbinate.
“Growing up in a rabbinic home, I always was passionate about serving the Jewish community but wanted to stay as far away from the rabbinate as possible,” he explained. “I really liked mathematics and thought I would either go into engineering or some other math-related field.”
But the son of Rabbi Kenneth Brander, who served for many years as the spiritual leader of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), and who is now vice president for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University, Tuvia Brander eventually, as they say, entered the “family business.”
“Of course, my father and also my mother have always been role models for me, my siblings and so many others,” he said. “I watched how they built a home that was warm and welcoming – accessible to all and supportive of the different types of people that came journeying through their door. They did all this while cultivating a family life that was truly enriched by our surroundings and never compromised by them.”
Recently appointed the new spiritual leader of Young Israel of West Hartford, Brander and his wife Miriam are now building their own warm home in West Hartford, where they recently moved from the Washington Heights section of New York. He succeeds Rabbi Brahm Weinberg, who now is rabbi of Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring, Md.
Finding a new rabbi is very a difficult task,” says Debra Luger, coordinator of the Young Israel of West Hartford. “Thankfully, the search committee found the Branders. I have every confidence that Rabbi Brander will do wonderful things for our synagogue, and the community.”
On the pulpit during Rosh Hashana, Brander talked about his plans for the congregation.
“As I announced on Rosh Hashana, I am embarking on a listening campaign with the hopes of getting to meet and listen to the many stakeholders in our community,” he said. “Together, with the support of the Young Israel Board and congregation, we are looking forward to continuing to build a warm and welcoming family-friendly shul, committed to Torah, the State of Israel and chessed [kindness] for those around the corner and around the world. I am excited to partner with the local schools, the robust communal organizations and the broader Jewish community in the hopes of continuing to foster a Judaism that is engaging, rich in diversity and accessible for all those journeying Jewishly.”
Raised in Boca Raton, Brander, 27, graduated summa cum laude from Yeshiva University (YU) with a B.A. in mathematics and a minor in Jewish Studies.
“I had always wanted to be engaged in community and found the relationships formed in the context of community to be quite meaningful and fulfilling,” he explained. “Through a host of opportunities over my time at Yeshiva University, I had the chance to go out into the world both as a communal professional and an active lay leader. Over time, I realized my passion for community and for people could truly be transformed into a profession.”
He received his ordination from YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in September of 2014.
While there, he served as founding director of a unique college internship program called the Yeshiva University Kansas City Summer Experience.
Brander was also executive editor of Gesher: Yeshiva University Journal of Jewish Studies and led the campus American Jewish World Service Humanitarian Mission. He served as rabbinic intern at the Young Israel of Plainview, N.Y. and Congregation BIAV of Overland Park, Kansas. He was a fellow at Straus Center for Western Thought at YU, as well as part of the AIPAC Leffell Israel Fellowship. He received advanced training in Family Purity and Medicine from the Puah Institute.
Bander is a recipient of a Wexner Graduate Fellowship and a member of the Rabbi Norman Lamm Kollel L’Horaah, a program focused on training future rabbinic judges. He is currently completing his M.A. in Bible Studies at YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies.
Miriam Brander, a native of Fair Lawn, N.J., is currently pursuing a Masters of Public Administration at New York University. She has been awarded a FEREP graduate fellowship by the Jewish Federations of North America.
The Federation Executive Recruitment & Education Program (FEREP) is a graduate scholarship program, funded through The Jewish Federations of North America Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence, for students who are planning careers in Jewish Federations. The FEREP program awards funding towards graduate school, in return for a part-time graduate internship and a minimum two-year work commitment in a North American Jewish Federation following graduate school.
“I am thrilled to be starting at the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and excited to be working with such committed Jewish professionals,” Miriam Brander said.
Passionate about social justice and Jewish youth work, she has also traveled to Muchucuxcah, Mexico as part of a humanitarian mission, to Rwanda to work with victims of gender-based violence, and recently served as director of teen leadership development for NJ NCSY, an Orthodox Jewish youth movement.
For now, Rabbi Brander is settling into his role at Young Israel and is “stunned and inspired by the congregation’s remarkable energy and excitement and their tremendous outpouring of support.
“The warm and welcoming Orthodox community that the Young Israel of West Hartford strives to be is precisely the type of community I have always sought to be a part of,” he adds. “Its commitment to Torah and respect and celebration of diversity are ideals I have also always tried to integrate into my personal and professional life. Coupled with the excited and devoted laity, I was thrilled to have found the Young Israel of West Hartford.”
CAP: Rabbi Tuvia Brander