By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Eighteen months.
That’s how long the 170 or so members of Congregation Shaare Tefilla went without a rabbi.
That period ended this month, when Ariel Rackovsky assumed the pulpit — becoming the third Shaare Tefilla rabbi in the congregation’s 30-year history.
Rackovsky’s hiring was a long time coming. After Rabbi Ari Perl departed in January 2014 to assume a similar mantle at the Jewish Center of Atlantic Beach, a 12-member rabbi search committee was organized at Congregation Shaare Tefilla.
That committee conducted two separate searches to find a successor, explained Richard A. Rohan, president of the congregation and a member of the committee.
“It was a long, deliberate search process,” Rohan said.
In March, the committee found its ideal candidate in Rackovsky, a Rochester, New York native who was working at the time as rabbi at the Irving Place Minyan, a Modern Orthodox congregation in Woodmere, New York.
Rackovsky and his wife, Chicago native Dr. Jessica Abramowitz, have been married five and a half years. They have a 3-year-old son, Yeshaya. They are expecting a second child in October.
Rabbi Rackovsky, 35, said Congregation Shaare Tefilla really appealed to him as a possible new home.
“I love Dallas,” Rabbi Rackovsky said. “When we first got wind of this opportunity my wife and I decided it was something we wanted to be part of. I came out here initially for 24 hours and got a chance to see the sights of Orthodox Jewish Dallas. Then, my wife and I were both invited back for a weekend. We felt like we were home.”
So the rabbi accepted the job offer — but would have to honor several months of professional obligations before he could begin work in the D-FW Metroplex.
That was six months ago. Now here in Dallas and on the job, Rabbi Rackovsky said he and his wife are here and situated in a home — and really looking forward to getting to know the congregation.
Incidentally, the 18 months Congregation Shaare Tefilla did not have a rabbi was the second such extended period in its three-decade history, officials said.
Congregation Shaare Tefilla went without a rabbi for 12 months (2002-2003) during the transition between first Rabbi Howard Wolk and second Rabbi Ari Perl, according to Rohan.
Looking to the future, Rohan said the new rabbi certainly has the youth and energy necessary to connect with both the younger and older congregants.
The congregation’s founding members are now in their late 50s and early 60s and have certain expectations from their rabbi, the president said.
At the same time, the children of the founding members are moving back to Dallas and rejoining the congregation and the rabbi must also connect well with that group, Rohan said.
Fortunately, Rabbi Rackovsky seems to be able to do just that, Rohan observed.
“He is a very good speaker,” Rohan said. “During his audition weekend, he gave a sermon on Shabbat morning that held the audience spellbound. And he has continued to exhibit his speaking skills since he arrived.”
Rohan said he is equally impressed with the rabbi’s wife — Dr. Jessica Abramowitz.
“She will be a wonderful role model for young women in our congregation,” he said. “The two of them are very warm and down-to-earth people and I think they are going to be very well received by the congregation.”
Dr. Abramowitz, incidentally, is a graduate of Brandeis University and the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. She is joining the faculty of the UT Southwestern School of Medicine and is becoming an attending physician in their Department of Endocrinology, her husband said.
Rabbi Rackovsky also has solid credentials. He graduated Yeshiva College in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in biology and received his rabbinic ordination in March 2006 from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary — while serving as rabbinic intern at the Riverdale Jewish Center.
In the fall of 2006, Rabbi Rackovsky was named senior rabbinic intern at the RJC, and joined the rabbinical staff of the Beth Din of America.
The rabbi served there until the summer of 2007, when he was named assistant rabbi at The Jewish Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Additionally, the rabbi served at the Jewish Center from July 2007 to November 2011, when he assumed the position of rabbi at the Irving Place Minyan.
In December of 2011, he completed his Master of Science in general counseling from Pace University.
The rabbi and his wife have already made a wonderful impression on the congregation, said David Zoller, a member of Shaare Tefilla.
“My family got to know Rabbi Rackovsky and his wife Jessica over a Shabbat dinner in our home,” Zoller said. “He is very genuine, easy to connect with and is funny. Seeing the rabbi interact with teenagers and adults simultaneously, I knew he would be a fit for our growing community.”
Zoller said he was very impressed by a class the rabbi taught on High Holiday prayer.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I left blown away by the perspective he shared on what the prayers meant, where they came from, why they were set up the way they were and how we could relate to them,” Zoller said. “I haven’t stopped thinking about the class and am certain that my High Holidays will be more meaningful now that I have a deeper perspective on the material.”
Zoller said Shaare Tefilla and the entire Dallas Jewish community are fortunate to have such a high-caliber scholar that is able to connect on a personal level.
Miriam Tannenbaum, a member of the search committee, agreed that the rabbi’s skills are already being appreciated.
“In his time since arriving he has created a buzz in shul,” she said.
Tannenbaum said she has found the rabbi to have a wonderful blend of intellect, wit, humor and deep concern for others.
“When he greets a congregant with a ‘Good Shabbos-Shabbat Shalom,’ his care is evident,” she said. “I met him initially as a part of the Rabbinic Search Committee. He immediately radiated warmth and depth and breadth of knowledge and wisdom. He was passionate in his learning and his delivery of sermons.”
Rabbi Rackovsky said his plans include staying active in the initiatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He already is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.
“The overall theme here is, I want to make Shaare Tefilla the place to be,” the rabbi said. “I want it to be the place to be because people feel it is warm and caring on the part of the rabbi and the membership. I want it to be compelling for people of all ages — for people who are intellectually curious or spiritual seekers. I want to build relationships. As a rabbi it is my job to serve.”