New director of Jewish life & learning starts July 1
By Michael Sudhalter
Rabbi Feivel Rubinstein discussed one of his favorite lessons that he learned from the teachings of Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, who was an 18th-century rabbi in Poland.
“I have a necklace that represents this lesson; there are two pieces of paper,” Rubinstein said. “One pocket has nothing but dust and ash. The other has something that says ‘the whole world was created for my sake.’ The instruction is to use each piece of paper when you’re feeling the opposite way.”
Rubinstein will take that lesson of humility and confidence — along with many other teachings — into his new role as the next director of Jewish life and learning at Ann & Nate Levine Academy in Dallas. He starts on July 1 at the campus, which has 430 students from infants through eighth grade.
“Rabbi Feivel is highly energetic, inspiring, innovative and a collaborative leader,” said Levine Academy Head of School Tom Elieff. “He has a strong sense of promoting spirit and has a real aspect of vitality to him. Rabbi Feivel is committed to a love of learning and a love of Israel, reflecting the values of our school.”
Elieff said the hiring process was thorough and included contracting with a national search firm to make the hire. Rubinstein was one of five finalists who were invited to interview at the campus in Dallas.
Rubinstein is looking forward to beginning this new chapter in his life.
“This is the right opportunity and the right time to shift gears into what I’ve been looking to do for a long time,” Rubinstein said.
Rubinstein, who turns 35 years old later this month, founded “Freelance Judaism” when he was still a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2010.
Through the nonprofit, he’s able to connect with Jewish students who range from children to adults.
“I have bar mitzvah students and adults who want to be more active in their Jewish community, as well as a wide variety of students,” Rubinstein said.
The service allows Rubinstein to connect with Jewish people who live in communities where they may be one of just a handful of Jews in their town or city. He’s connected with students — both virtually and in-person — from 30 different states as well as several European countries.
He recently came to learn about that in the first person.
Rubinstein currently operates “Freelance Journalism” from Shreveport, Louisiana, where his wife, Sydni, is the rabbi at Congregation Agudath Achim. The couple has an infant son, Shalom Zimri.
While Shreveport has had three Jewish mayors, that was more than a century ago. Currently, there’s a Jewish population of 400 in the Shreveport area.
It was quite a cultural adjustment for Rubinstein, who was born and raised in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Colorado with a music degree. Both Los Angeles and Boulder have large Jewish communities.
“I learned about how people approach the Jewish life when they don’t have the resources or intentions,” said Rubinstein, who currently serves as the programming director of the North Louisiana Jewish Federation. “It broadened my understanding of what it means to be a Jew in the world.”
Rubinstein grew up in what he described as a “Conservadox” family and has traveled to Israel three different times.
When he chose the University of Colorado, his focus was earning a degree in chemical engineering, but he made the switch to music so he could become an opera singer.
Along the way, he attended the campus Hillel House, where he met Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, who encouraged him to consider Jewish education. Naftalin-Kelman selected Rubinstein as the campus’ Shabbat representative and he worked at a local Hebrew school.
“I spent 10 minutes in the classroom and it shifted my entire worldview of where I might serve my purpose in life,” Rubinstein said.
After graduating from Colorado, Rubinstein moved back to Los Angeles to attend the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, where he met his wife.
As a Jewish educator, Rubinstein served as the religious school director and Hebrew Instructor at Congregation Adat Shalom in Los Angeles and the director of Jewish life for Camp Ramah in Southern California.
Rubinstein said he’s honored to be on the path as a Jewish educator, even though it wasn’t his original plan.
“As the old saying goes, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,’” Rubinstein said.