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Rabbis of LA | Or Ami’s Rabbi Lana Is, Was and Will Be a Proud Israeli

The 41-year-old mother of three served in the IDF’s Intelligence Force in the Gaza Strip.
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January 25, 2024
Rabbi Lana Zilberman Soloway

Weeks after Lana Zilberman Soloway became a rabbi at Congregation Or Ami, Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, and the Calabasas synagogue quickly learned it had hired a towering defender of Israel and the Jewish people. Since Oct. 7th, she said, she has talked to her community about the war “all the time.” 

First, she said, “I am an Israeli … It’s a personal trauma. I know a lot of people affected in every possible way. I grew up in Netanya, but most of my adult life I spent in Jerusalem.”

The 41-year-old mother of three served in the IDF’s Intelligence Force in the Gaza Strip. “Therefore I know a lot of people in the kibbutzim on the outskirts of Gaza who suffered through and survived … I also know people who did not. I know people taken hostages. Finally, almost every family I know has a child, a spouse or another relative who was drafted.” To complete the portrait she said “I have been a peace activist for most of my adult life. So I also have connections on the other side.”

Born in Moscow, she made Aliyah with her parents when she was eight; Israel is her permanent home. When the rabbi returned home in November for a one-week visit, she found it “very painful to see my own country in turmoil.”

It might be impossible for anyone to track developments in Israel more closely than Rabbi Lana. She is in daily contact with family and friends in Israel. Her first act every morning and final effort each night is to monitor news out of Israel. “I try to be up-to-date on everything,” she said.

With the war’s four-month anniversary nearing, she notes it has been about Jews helping Jews. Speaking as a peace activist, Rabbi Lana said it was “unfortunate the Israeli government wasn’t really functioning before Oct. 7 and did not do much after. But the power of civic society has proven itself above and beyond.” Her Or Ami community in Calabasas has made a multitude of efforts raising money and providing needed clothes.

For most of her adult life, Rabbi Lana was an educator and tour guide; she was ordained only three years ago. So she knows the world from a wide perspective. “We talk about the war all the time in different areas with different age groups,” she said. “We have held vigils. We talk about the war with our kids, with our teens. Now this is intertwined with the rise of antisemitism. We teach broadly. I led a course on Israel being in conflict. Now we are doing a course on antisemitism.”

Rabbi Lana has hosted almost two dozen circles — some in person, some via Zoom — where community members share where they are: college students, religious schools, parents with young children. “I am an educator first,” she says. “I truly believe knowledge is power.”

The third piece of her commitment is maintaining direct relations with Israel. Or Ami senior Rabbi Paul Kipnes, the synagogue’s first fulltime rabbi, also visited Israel recently. On her visit, Rabbi Lana was shocked by the number of weapons Israelis were packing out in the open.

“I have lived in Israel my entire life,” she said, “and experienced first-hand many wars. I have been a soldier in Gaza myself. But I never have experienced so many weapons in civilian hands. People are afraid. They feel the government and the army completely failed them. They are unwilling to take a chance that, G-d forbid, this could happen again.” Israel is a country that does not trust its leaders, she said, a country of people who went through a colossal trauma “and they feel responsibility for protecting themselves and family members.” She found this deeply disturbing because “the more weapons you have in society, the more people can get hurt.”

“I am between two worlds,” she said. “I am 100% here, and at the same time, my Israeli heart has been shattered.”

As an Israeli, “I am between two worlds,” she said. “I am 100% here, and at the same time, my Israeli heart has been shattered.”

Rabbi Lana spoke of the irony of her arrival in Calabasas at this moment. “My community feels this is a besheret moment that I have arrived here now,” she said. “When my family and I decided to come here, we did not expect the world to turn upside down.  But all things happen for a reason.”

What about the route from Jerusalem to Calabasas? While she was a tour director, she frequently was assigned to lead North Americans, often Reform congregations. “The first trip I was assigned to lead [Congregation Or Ami] in 2014 was kind of random,” she said. “We bonded, and we kept a close relationship all of these years.”

Rabbi Lana dropped in on Calabasas for the first time seven years ago when she was traveling to the West Coast for her company. “Rabbi Paul invited me to give a sermon on a Friday night,” she recalled. They renewed acquaintance last February when Kipnes invited her to be a scholar-in-residence. She stayed for a week. Meanwhile, Rabbi Lana said, “both he and the community asked if I would consider coming here for a few years. Here I am.”

Coming to America is temporary, she has made clear. “It’s definitely not immigration,” she declared. “It is schlihut. I am an emissary.” 

It was not easy to say farewell to Israel, even temporarily. “My husband Daniel, an American citizen, made Aliyah in 2010, and we have been married almost ever since. Because of their father, our three children are American citizens. So I am the only non-American.” 

The world is chauvinist, she concluded. “When people learned we were moving to America, they asked, ‘So what kind of job did Daniel get?’” Finally, on differences between Israel and America, she said “the respect women rabbis receive from congregants is much higher here.” 

Fast Takes with Rabbi Lana

Jewish Journal: What is your favorite family activity? 

Rabbi Lana: Being in nature, all together. It can be a hike, being at the beach, seeing blue skies, green trees, breathing the air together.

Jewish Journal: The most impressive book you ever have read?

Rabbi Lana: Yair Lapid, a Knesset member, once was a TV guy, like Jay Leno. He wrote a phenomenal book about his father, Tommy Lapid, a Holocaust survivor, “Memories of My Father.” Written in the first person, as if an autobiography.

Jewish Journal: Who has been the most influential person in your life?

Rabbi Lana: For sure, my father, who died when I was 23, and my rabbi, Tamar Elad Appelbaum.

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