fbpx

Shalom Rubanowitz: The Rabbi on the Beach

"People are able to feel at home because they can connect to something authentic. It’s just what their Jewish soul is looking for.”
[additional-authors]
June 30, 2022
Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz

On the Venice Beach boardwalk, just steps away from trendy restaurants, weed shops, tattoo parlors and, of course, the ocean, is an Orthodox synagogue with three bright blue Stars of David on its facade. It’s called the Pacific Jewish Center, AKA the Shul on the Beach, and it’s there that Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz welcomes Jews of all kinds. A typical Shabbat service might include those who are observant, those who are unaffiliated, young professionals, community residents and visitors to the popular SoCal destination. 

Given his unique congregation, it’s no surprise Rubanowitz became the synagogue’s spiritual leader in a non-traditional fashion. Over the weekend of July 4, 2015, with his daughter Dena he Airbnb’d a boat in Marina del Rey. He called the Shul on the Beach to see if anyone could offer Shabbat hospitality.

“We hit the ‘Shabbos invitation jackpot’ and were invited to the home of a lovely couple from the shul, with whom I became great friends,” Rubanowitz told the Journal. “When the shul needed a rabbi a few years later, I’m told I was the first call.”

The rabbi, who is originally from the Fairfax district and attended Yavneh Hebrew Academy, has been working at the synagogue since 2015, but he’s been a lawyer and a pulpit rabbi for over 20 years. He learned at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, and received ordination while he was there, became certified in Jewish marriage and family law and gained admission to the Bar in 14 states.  

Growing up, Rubanowitz spent three years in Israel when his parents decided to make aliyah and try living there. While in the Jewish State, he studied in Safed and Jerusalem.

“That was a big part of my life,” he said. “I gained new knowledge of a broader Jewish world outside of just our local community. I learned Hebrew and understood Israeli life.”

Rubanowitz had no intention to become a rabbi. While his parents raised him and his nine siblings to be learned, he wanted to take a different path from his five brothers; all of them became rabbis and teachers and didn’t go to college. He attended Rutgers Law School, where he came across a rabbinic opportunity.

“I got a place to live above a shul and in exchange, I was the rabbi,” he said. “I was a part-time rabbi and just never stopped. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer since I was in high school, but I never thought I’d go into the rabbinate. Once I saw I could do both, I kept it up throughout my career.”

Going to college gave Rubanowitz a more open-minded perspective, one which would serve him well at the Shul on the Beach.

“I recognized there is a lot of wisdom and knowledge in the secular world,” he said. “If you’re a rabbinic student or raised very Orthodox, you may think this is the only way to go and other people are wrong. It gets very insular and can create a feeling that you know the truth and the truth is only held by those who grew up Orthodox. Going to law school, I was able to see the value of human beings in the secular world and relate to them. It made my religious and secular worlds better, giving me a broader perspective on my religious life.”

Rubanowitz calls himself the “out-of-the-box Orthodox rabbi.” When he first came to the Shul on the Beach, it was in survival mode, because many of the congregants had moved to the La Brea and Pico-Robertson Jewish communities. Working with the remaining shul members, he came up with ways to ensure the shul not just survived, but thrived.

“I focused on creating a place where people can find a home and connection,” he said. “Now it’s in a revival, where people are joining us for Shabbat meals and services. People are happy to be part of a community.”

One Friday night a month, the synagogue hosts a Shabbat lounge, where sushi and sake are served. They’ve held standup comedy shows and klezmer concerts and offer a matchmaking service, too.

“I got divorced and I’m still single, so I can relate to a lot of singles out there,” said Rubanowitz. “We have a very big focus on singles who can meet each other. We’ve made some matches.”

In the end, what he believes attracts people to the Shul on the Beach is its dedication to traditional Judaism – while welcoming in outsiders.

In the end, what he believes attracts people to the Shul on the Beach is its dedication to traditional Judaism – while welcoming in outsiders.

“We’re very authentic and keep the sense of tradition,” Rubanowitz said. “But at the same time, it’s very open to any kind of person who comes in. People are able to feel at home because they can connect to something authentic. It’s just what their Jewish soul is looking for.”

Fast Takes With Shalom Rubanowitz

What’s your favorite Jewish food?

Shalom Rubanowitz: Can I have two? Chopped liver and good schmaltz herring.

JJ: What’s your perfect Shabbat look like?

SR: Having plenty of time to eat and learn and meet everybody and sleep.

JJ: What do you do on your day off?

SR: On Sundays, I’ll take time to ride my motorcycle and sail my boat and hang out with my kids.

JJ: What’s your favorite place in Venice?

SR: I love the canals. No question about it. And my shul’s library. I love my library. 

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Ha Lachma Anya

This is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt

Israel Strikes Deep Inside Iran

Iranian media denied any Israeli missile strike, writing that the Islamic Republic was shooting objects down in its airspace.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.