HomeNovember 2011New Rabbi in Town

New Rabbi in Town

“I felt a vast emptiness that I was trying to fill.  Something is wrong.”  Those were the words that Rabbi Joel Berman, the new rabbi at Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim, used when he started his previous position at Congregation Ohev Tzedek-Sha’arei Torah in Youngstown, Ohio, as his reasoning to search further into Judaism.
Many years before Berman decided to become a rabbi, he was a popular comedian in Los Angeles.  He traveled the country and performed at many night clubs, putting on comedy shows.
Rabbi Berman grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, with his parents and lived a modern Orthodox lifestyle.  The family later moved to Tarzana.  As an adult he had a job delivering newsletters to various talent agents in Los Angeles.  While driving around Los Angeles to deliver these newsletters, he would listen to Dennis Prager’s “Religion on the Line” talk show on the radio.  This show featured a priest, a pastor and a rabbi who would speak about everyday life.  He found himself agreeing with the rabbi on most aspects, because he felt that the rabbi was the most practical when they would speak about how to deal with life.
Getting tired of the lifestyle he was living, where he was constantly traveling, Berman realized that he wanted a change.  He felt that Judaism had something to say.  He decided to try to approach different synagogues in his community and introduce them to a program where he would put on a show about Judaism using old Jewish jokes.  He went to the rabbi at the synagogue where he grew up and told him about his idea.  The rabbi said, “You are crazy.  This will never work.  People will not buy what you have to say unless you are a rabbi.”
Rabbi Berman then asked him why and said that it would take five to six years of his life for him to become a rabbi. His rabbi responded to him, “Well, you are going to get old anyway.”  In that moment it all made sense to Rabbi Berman, and that is when he decided to apply to rabbinical school.  He knew that he did not have a strong background, and he had never been to Israel, but decided to apply, and a few weeks later he was accepted.
Rabbi Berman received his Masters of Hebrew Letters form the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and then traveled to study in Jerusalem from 1992 to 2003 at the Jerusalem Branch of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Machon Schechter. While in Israel, Rabbi Berman met his first wife, Brenda.  Then tragedy struck: Brenda went into a coma from which she never recovered.  Within weeks after they were married, she passed away.  During that time people from various congregations were bringing him hot food to eat, and there was also someone every night in the beginning sleeping on his couch making sure he was okay.  In that time he said that few things became apparent to him, and after experiencing the community in Israel, he asked himself where in the world he would find a community like this.  At that moment he decided to stay in Israel.
After the passing of his wife, Berman decided that he needed to take a break from school to do some learning.  A friend of his, also a student, wanted to also take the year off and study Talmud.  They both tried to apply to a yeshiva in Jerusalem where they could study Talmud, but that year the school decided that it was not going to accept any more Conservative rabbis.  Rabbi Berman decided to speak with one of his colleagues about his desire to learn more, and his friend, who was also a teacher at Machon Schechter.  His friend told him that if he could at least get five or six more people together to study that he would be willing to teach them.
Rabbi Berman was then a part of the beginning of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.  He was one of the founders and administrators for the Yeshiva of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.  He received his rabbinical ordination from the Israeli institution, and through all this, he met his current wife, Chaia Beckerman, and was married in 1995.  They met at an Erev Shirah, an evening of song, and they fell in love.  They were married at a Mount Scopus, which had a view of the Old City.  He said that moment was one of the most beautiful moments of his life.
Rabbi Berman and his wife decided to adopt two children, both from Guatemala.  They now have two beautiful children Deana, who is fifteen, and Eitan, who is eleven.
After working at the Yeshiva, Rabbi Berman decided that he wanted to know what it was like to be a congregational rabbi.  Berman and his wife decided that the best place for him to find a job as a rabbi for a congregation was in the United States.
He met with four synagogues in a matter of two weeks, but in the end he decided that the best option was in Youngstown, Ohio.  Rabbi Berman led Congregation Ohev Tzedek-Sha’arei for seven years.  He encountered many challenges because of the aging population, but he managed to engage the community and keep the Jewish faith alive.  He introduced a Torah study class for congregants and invited a variety of age groups to a “Rabbi’s Tisch,” which he felt would help strengthen the youth of the community.  Rabbi Berman also offered a variety of classes that brought in members of his congregation and many new members as well.  He played in a four-rabbi band named “Shalom Rav,” and he also led a bi-weekly study group with a Roman Catholic priest for adults of any faith in the community.
Of Temple Beth Emet and his new position, Rabbi Berman said, “I love doing this work.  I am looking forward to enlightening and embracing this community.  Temple Beth Emet has a long and proud history in the Orange County Jewish community.”


  1. Confidential to Rabbi Joel Berman…please convey.

    Rabbi Berman: Fascinating is a very weak word to use to describe your life. It is much more than that. Please make a date to come to my book event appearance at Beth Emet on May 29th, EZRA, at 10:30. Marguerite Moscowitz is Chair. You and I, although many years part, have some commonalities….if I mention Rabbi Eli Schochet (AJU), the Greenblatt Family of Youngstown, that would be a start. Founder and Past President of Congregation Shomrei Torah (formerly Congregation Beth Kodesh where Eli served for 40 years, after I, yes I, hired him as our first rabbi. Not a bad record for a rabbi recruiter….one for one, 40 years! Beats the longevity of the NBA!

    You guessed it, Rabbi. I’m a writing hack, and I’ve been to Temple Beth Emet a few times with my prior books. I also spoke twice at the now defunct EZRA in Downey. Two weeks ago, I was the guest author at Laguna Woods Reform Congregation, also where I had “guested” several times over the years.

    My newest novel just won the award for historical fiction from The 2014 Beverly Hills International Book Awards. BRANKO (“in praise of a good man’s journey through life’s adventure”) is its name and I will speaking about it on my May visit.. I will send you the very same promo letter that I sent to EZRA, the Sisterhood (Women’s League) and the Broherhood at Ehmet.

    To date, since BRANKO was launched in home state Massachusetts in November, I have hit the road to 18 “speaking dates”….I don’t expect to match my 85 worldwide venues with my most recent novel, during the the years 2003-c.2008…after all, I’m ten years older, oy vay! Look forward to meeting you on May 29th..

    Stuart Tower 310-278-1985 2724 Angelo Drive, Bel Air Glen, Los Angeles, Ca. 90077


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