“And Make Yourselves a New Heart and a New Spirit”
Rabbi David Berkman
Rabbi David Berkman has served the New City Jewish Center since his ordination in 1991. Originally from Chicago, the rabbi grew up in a home that was deeply committed to the social justice message of the 1960s era Reform Movement. From a young age, he was personally inspired by several outstanding rabbinic role models including Rabbis Arnold Jacob Wolf z"l, Lawrence Kushner and Robert Marx. He views the unique role of the rabbi as someone who can comfort when there is a need to heal and challenge when there is complacency. The words of great mussar rabbi Israel Salanter have defined his approach: "Any rabbi whose congregation always agrees with him is not really a rabbi, but any rabbi whose congregation never agrees with him is not really a mensch."
Rabbi Berkman's somewhat unconventional path to the rabbinate began at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received his BFA. Working primarily with interactive sound sculpture and performance art, his work frequently carried political undertones and social commentary. Holocaust imagery also, played an important role in his personal vision and found expression in many of his "live" pieces as well as in prints, drawings and poetry.
In 1983, Rabbi Berkman traveled with a colleague to the Soviet Union to meet with, and bring material support to, "Refusnicks," - Jewish dissidents whose desire to learn Hebrew, study Judaism and emigrate to Israel was met by state sponsored persecution and threats to personal safety.
Deeply inspired by the personal stories and courage of these Russian Jews, Rabbi Berkman decided to revise his career trajectory. Returning to graduate school at the University of Chicago, the rabbi began course work in bible and rabbinic literature. It was during his first year of graduate studies that his real life passion began to crystallize. In the fall of 1985, the rabbi transferred his credits and began rabbinical studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Upon ordination, he was recipient of the Israel H Levinthal award in homiletics and was selected as rabbinical school speaker at commencement exercises.
Rabbi Berkman is known for his involvement in the community and has served on numerous boards and committees including Jewish Federation, the JCC, Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School, Jewish Family Service Substance Abuse Council, SUNY Rockland Hillel, the Clarkstown Board of Ethics and several others. He is a past president of the Rockland Board of Rabbis, and has served as rabbinic advisor for the Reuben Gittleman Day School where he also taught advanced Talmud for many years. Rabbi Berkman has also been a member of the Chancellor's Cabinet of the Jewish Theological Seminary and holds certificates of advanced study in counseling for P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and kosher supervision from the Rabbinical Assembly.
An engaging lecturer and teacher from the pulpit and in the classroom, Rabbi Berkman often combines his passion for teaching Judaism with his love of art. Multi-media lectures such as Marc Chagall; The Color of Midrash, Ten Jewish Artists View the Holocaust and El Lissitzky's Had Gadya, have been widely attended and highly acclaimed. Rabbi Berkman is also known for his innovative initiatives such as "Rent-A-Succa," a program that provided literally hundreds of inexpensive succot to Jewish families throughout the community, "Israel Experience," the area's first and only Hebrew High School Israel program and NCJC's "Youth Community" a unique approach to Jewish education integrating formal and informal Jewish learning.
Rabbi Berkman has made Israel advocacy a centerpiece of the synagogue's cultural and spiritual identity. NCJC members have participated in several congregational missions and travel frequently to Israel as individuals and families. By hosting the David Project curriculum, Rabbi Berkman brought to the synagogue the area's only college credit granting course preparing high school seniors to be Israel advocates on campus. Rabbi Berkman also leads one of the East coast's largest congregational delegations to the AIPAC annual Policy Conference in Washington DC. With the Rabbi's support, NCJC members have been prominent at rallies and protest marches in support of Israel wherever they take place.
Rabbi Berkman views the building of a welcoming and compassionate community of individuals that cares for one another and for Clal Yisrael, to be the cornerstone of his rabbinate. In his own words: "I want to inspire people to be passionate about their Judaism and about the Jewish people."
Rabbi Berkman and his wife Carol King met in Jerusalem while studying at Hebrew University. They lived in Israel for two years while Carol served as Program Director for "Oded," the successful adult study program at the Conservative Movement's Israel headquarters. Carol was also a founding member of the counseling department at Jewish Theological Seminary's New York campus where she continues to work as the senior counselor. Locally, Carol works for Jewish Family Services of Rockland County as a therapist and as the Jewish family life educator. She lectures on teenage body image, bereavement and is an authority on Holocaust education. The King-Berkmans have four children, Dov, Meir, Shira and Chana.