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Rabbi Aviva Berg
“I began studying Judaism as an adult,” explains Rabbi Aviva Berg, who was recently hired as rabbi of Temple Beth David. “My study took place in an environment that was respectful and encouraged questioning in order to under-stand the text.”
It is her commitment to studying and learning that took her from an established 20-year career as an attorney in Chicago to Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles to ordination as a Rabbi. She graduated from the seminary and was ordained as a Conservative Rabbi in May 2009.
“Torah study is as wide as the universe,” says Rabbi Berg of the sacred scrolls comprised of the Five Books of Moses. “What we need to do is make this meaningful to Jews today, to integrate the ancient texts.”
Shortly after she married her husband, Arthur Bernberg, Rabbi Berg began her Judaic studies in earnest. “I got a taste of it and I wanted to know everything. I took every adult education class at my synagogue in Chicago,” she said. “The courses broadened my horizons into what Judaism can be. Courses included archeology and biblical criticism. Social issues came up, ones that hadn’t come up for me before.”
While continuing her career as an attorney specializing in employment law, both at a large firm and in independent practice, Rabbi Berg furthered her studies and earned a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago.
“I want to always be learning, connecting with people, living mitzvot, in both my personal life and my work. One has to believe in something, about what one is doing. You have to make it a mantra so that you remember it and do it.”
A commitment to adult learning is just one of the traits the Temple sought in a new rabbi. “Rabbi Berg has many talents that will help us grow, spiritually and in size. She will guide us in prayer, during lifecycle events, education and social action,” says Ron Kraus, president of Temple Beth David.
Rabbi Berg took that step furthering her own Jewish education when she applied to both rabbinical schools that ordain Conservative rabbis.
“I had considered rabbinical school when I began my solo legal practice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right time because of my husband’s business,” says Rabbi Berg. “I let it pass. Then, several years later, September 11 happened. Like many, I totally re-evaluated my life. It was a wake-up call.”
At this point, it became possible to do both; Rabbi Berg could attend rabbinical school and her husband could relocate his business. “I wanted to be trained to be of help and service to people. That’s what I wanted for the next phase of my life,” she adds. “Ziegler School was a place for the heart, soul and mind.”
The school prepared its students to serve congregations, through the study of text, Hebrew and Aramaic languages, history and courses like homolitics, in which seminary students learn how to prepare a sermon.
“A class I loved was Torah Anthologies. The primary assignment was to teach a rabbi today from the teachings of a rabbi of 50 to 150 years ago. These rabbis of the past, whether they were from Germany, Poland or else-where, had different insights than today’s rabbis or those from centuries ago. It was a great educational opportunity and one that I will bring to Temple Beth David.”
“Coming to Temple Beth David is a change for me and for the congregation,” says Rabbi Berg. “There is so much potential and an opportunity to infuse energy.”