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Rabbis of LA | Rabbi Norbert Weinberg Is Not Slowing Down

Rabbi Weinberg is best known in Los Angeles for his two separate terms as the rabbi of Hollywood Temple Beth El.
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January 4, 2024
Rabbi Norbert Weinberg

As Norbert Weinberg entered the 50th year of his rabbinate, Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7 reminded the Frankfurt, Germany native of the realities of war he thought he’d left behind.  He told his congregation at Hollywood Temple Beth El “these have been harrowing days for us. Our grandson Eitan now is in Israel. He was starting a college program and was full of excitement. Now his dreams are in abeyance.” The children of his nephews and nieces are on the frontlines awaiting orders to move forward. His nephew and daughter intended to attend the tragic Nova Festival. “By chance,” Rabbi Weinberg explained, “they had to go back home. They returned the next day only to hear shooting sounds. They immediately turned back before it was too late.”  “Very scary.”

Three months later, he describes himself as “personally comforted” by the way Israelis have been displaying national unity. Rabbi Weinberg’s family has forwarded videos showing Israelis – secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox – delivering food and supplies to vulnerable communities on the battlefront. “There is now a government of national unity,” he believes. “Former political enemies who had said ‘Never,’ now are talking with each other.”

He has called out hypocrisy where he saw it: “I have not minced my words,” he said. “Silence on the rape and massacre of Israelis, those condemning Israel for self-defense while being silent on the massive bloodshed in Yemen, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere. Finally, there is the rush by the media to accuse, and the betrayal by our own quislings.”

Rabbi Weinberg is best known in Los Angeles for his two separate terms as the rabbi of Hollywood Temple Beth El, a huge iconic stone structure on the corner of Crescent Heights and Fountain Avenues. At 75, he shows no sign of slowing down. Except for working internationally, on both U.S. coasts, three American states and adapting his career among education, business and Judaism, he could be an ordinary rabbi. How does he want to be identified? “Primarily, I want to be a mensch.” was his immediate response.

“When I function as a rabbi, I am guiding and teaching. My business, in the interim, when I went out of the rabbinate and back into the rabbinate, was to help students learn.” 

“When I function as a rabbi, I am guiding and teaching. My business, in the interim, when I went out of the rabbinate and back into the rabbinate, was to help students learn.” Weinberg was referring to the Huntington Learning Center, Encino, where he and his wife Ofra remain involved. Both Weinbergs spend several days a week there “to help out, to help with administrative issues and to do some tutoring.”

Education, he said “is a fascinating subject: How do you get children to perform well, from beginning pre-school to college entrance? Sometimes that extends to young adults who need to organize their thinking and get their skills in line. It goes all across the board. It can range from students who have moderate learning or behavioral issues that interfere, all the way to kids who may be very gifted – but because they are gifted, they never have had to work.”

His interest in education started during his peripatetic  youth. “As a rabbi’s kid,” he said, “we lived lots of places, New York City, Ohio, a Washington, D.C. suburb and high school in West Virginia.” Following his 1974 ordination by the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Weinberg began traveling the globe for himself.

A half-century after opening his career at Beth Yeshurun in Houston, the largest Conservative congregation in U.S. at the time, his ties to the community remain.“My brother-in-law moved there and stayed,” said Weinberg. “Our first daughter was born there, and our youngest son has moved there for business reasons.”

After a few years in Houston, he was seeking a shul of his own. Newport News, Va. beckoned. When the clock again announced time for a change, “I decided to move to the West Coast.” Weinberg landed at Beth Sholom, “a beautiful community in Whittier.”

Next, “I decided to try my hand at making aliyah.” The Weinbergs spent four years in Israel where the rabbi led an adult Jewish education program for the Histadrut, the Israeli labor union, at Bet Berel College. The rabbi shook his head at the memory. “Interesting work,” he concluded. “After dealing with Israeli bureaucracy, after navigating big politics and little politics, I told myself, ‘Okay, that’s my Zionist experiment.’”

That was 34 years ago, and he still considers himself an Israeli. “But I wanted something with my feet on the ground,” Weinberg said. The rabbi decided he had to come back to the United States for the financial security, arriving at  Hollywood Temple Beth El in 1990.

After six years, storm clouds struck. Bankruptcy hit Beth El. “I sometimes ask myself if I could have prevented it.” Soon another door opened. “We went into the education business with the Huntington Learning Center,” Weinberg said. “In 2012, we sold off the Center – the nature of the business had changed. It was running out of steam for a variety of reasons. We didn’t have the energy to replace the (affected parts) of the business. Let someone else take care of it.”

A year later, Rabbi Weinberg was back at Beth El, and tutoring at the Center.

Fast Takes with Rabbi Weinberg

Jewish Journal: What is the most enjoyable book you ever have read?

Rabbi Weinberg: Since we don’t have time to read novels, we all read short snippets. Make it “War and Peace.”

JJ: Your favorite Jewish food?

Rabbi Weinberg: Give me a pita with hummus and tahina.

JJ: What do you do when you have a day off?

Rabbi Weinberg: My wife makes sure I don’t have to worry about that.

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