“I want people to live with an elevated sense of purpose … to share our energy and passion living as Jews and loving it.”
The last few years for English-teacher-turned-rabbi, Aryeh Kravetz, have been a bit of a whirlwind.
In 2017, Kravetz was living in Baltimore and teaching English as his wife, Edina, worked as an occupational therapist. Then, one Shabbat walk the couple made a big decision — to have Kravetz teach in an entirely different capacity — as a rabbi.
“We were at a crossroads in our lives, and we were just looking to do more, in terms of Jewish education. I wanted something more Jewish focused to contribute in a broad way,” said Rabbi Kravetz about their Shabbat decision.
“Come Sunday morning we were like ‘Wait, no way.’ It was too much to think about. We tabled it for the next Shabbat and discussed it again.”
That is all it took to put a plan in action. The couple vacationed in Israel that summer to see if it was a viable idea and were accepted into the Kollel a few days later. They moved on their second wedding anniversary.
After receiving his ordination three years ago and serving as an intern in England, Rabbi Kravetz joined Congregation Beit Tikvah of Ottawa as their community rabbi in December.
“We never had a specific location in mind, we were very open to wherever the world took us, where we could feel like we could contribute and give of ourselves in the most passionate way possible,” said Kravetz about coming to Canada. “It was love at first sight.”
Even his 2.5-year-old and 7-month-old daughters love it here — snow and all.
“Everyone told us be careful of the weather!” said Rabbi Kravetz. “The girls are loving it. They loved the snow and they have turned into social butterflies.”
While moving to a new community and taking over a congregation might be considered a difficult task at the best of times, it is even more challenging during a pandemic. But Rabbi Kravetz instead thinks of it as an opportunity to think outside the box.
“It’s a different transition ... to start a job as a community rabbi when you can’t see the community. As far as in-person interactions, it has been different. We have had some very successful Zoom events, so we’ve adjusted accordingly. It’s an opportunity for us to think differently.”
He said his biggest success to date is overcoming everything the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the community.
“Finding those opportunities to engage and do it creatively. That’s been our biggest success in finding ways to overcome the challenge of distancing,” he said.
“We’ve run some very successful and out-there programs. A Purim party on wheels, where we rented a truck and got a photo board and dressed up, put music on the back of it. We brought the Purim party to people.”
One program recently introduced is the Recess Break program, where families can sign up for a visit from Rabbi Kravetz — complete with snacks!
“We know how difficult it is to have to go through another lockdown, especially with kids home from school,” he said when launching the program. “But we are here to support you.”
Two recess break sessions are coming up, with slime-making and tie-dying as options. Visit https://www.facebook.com/CBTOttawa/ to sign up and for more details.
The Kravetzes also put on an Israel-style brunch to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, serving and delivering more than 70 brunch packages to members of the community.
“It’s a very nice, friendly community … open, warm, giving,” said Rabbi Kravetz. “They say Canadians are friendly and Jewish Ottawa has definitely lived up to the claims.”
Family is at the root of all Rabbi Kravetz does, and what he considers his biggest hobby. The four of them have enjoyed all the green space Ottawa has to offer and spends a lot of time hiking and being in nature. Rabbi Kravetz is also a fan of cooking.
He is also fluent in Russian — it was his first language, with immigrant parents who came to the United States in 1991, where he was born. He hopes to use this connection to engage with the Russian-speaking Jewish community in Ottawa.
“I want to continue to create an energy and passion for being Jewish and engaging with the modern world and do that in a way that each person themselves can walk out of schul and feel great,” said Rabbi Kravetz. “I want people to live with an elevated sense of purpose in who we are and be proud of it … to share our energy and passion as living as Jews and loving it.”