New rabbi hails from Down Under

NEWPORT BEACH — Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Rabbi Gersh Zylberman didn't expect to become a rabbi, let alone one at a synagogue here, thousands of miles away from his native land.

But there aren't many options for Jews in Australia who aspire to become spiritual leaders, Zylberman said.

So with no local places to train rabbis, it did not seem like a realistic career path to him as a young man graduating from high school.

"I had always wanted to be a rabbi," Zylberman, 38, said. "But out of high school, like many nice Jewish boys, I studied medicine instead."

On July 13, Temple Bat Yahm, at 1011 Camelback St., welcomed Zylberman as its new associate rabbi. He will serve as the synagogue's lone associate rabbi under Senior Rabbi Mark S. Miller.

Zylberman did complete six years of medical training, however, but when it came for him to choose his specialty, he said, "When push came to shove, my true passion was serving the community, and I wanted to do that by becoming a rabbi."

His rabbinical training took five years. He spent a year each at rabbi schools in Jerusalem and Cincinnati, and the remaining three years at a school in Los Angeles. Then he returned home to Melbourne, where he served as a rabbi for five years.

Zylberman moved from Australia with his wife, Rayna Gevurtz, a former assistant rabbi at Temple Bat Yahm, and their two daughters, Adria, 2, and Noa, 4.

"We were looking for a rabbi [whom] … we would call a 'mench' — a really good person — someone who was really well-grounded in Judaism, could connect with all ages, and in particular to the young adults and families, and who would complement Rabbi Miller," Temple President Steve Price said.

"And we certainly found all those things in Rabbi Gersh."

With his background, Zylberman is expected to bring in new ideas and perspectives to the temple, Price said. The president is particularly enthusiastic about the concept "do Jewish."

"[Do Jewish], meaning, to help people do Jewish things throughout their day and throughout their lives," Zylberman said. "I'm here to help people make positive Jewish choices, whether they grew up Jewish or not."

Although still settling in, Zylberman is busy leading services for Temple Bat Yahm, which serves more than 600 families. He described his first service as having a great feeling of "ruach," or spirit, and much excitement.

He will also lead this Friday's "Shabbat Under the Stars" in the temple garden amphitheater and an "Australian Shabbat" on July 30.

"I'm not sure what it will involve," Price said of the culturally themed Shabbat service. "But I can't wait. I'm so excited."

If you go: "Shabbat Under the Stars" at 6 p.m., July 23, in the Warsaw Amphitheater, Temple Bat Yahm, 1011 Camelback St., Newport Beach. Contact (949) 644-1999.

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