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Rabbi Rheins says Temple Sinai ‘buzzing with activity’

Rabbi Richard RheinsRabbi Richard S. Rheins, born in Cincinnati and raised in Indianapolis, has been the senior rabbi at Temple Sinai since 2005. Receiving his bachelor’s in telecommunications from Indiana University, Rheins’ life took a renewed turn toward Judaism when he went to Israel in 1981 and lived on Kibbutz Ein HaShofet.

Rheins attended HUC-JIR and was ordained in 1989. He served as an associate and senior rabbi at Temple Beth El in New York and Temple David in Pennsylvania.

In 2005, he succeeded founding rabbi of Temple Sinai, Rabbi Raymond Zwerin.  Rheins is president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council, vice president of the Solomon Freehof Institute of Progressive Halachah and serves on the boards of local organizations.

Rabbi Rheins is married to Rabbi Susan Rheins of Rhode Island, who teaches Torah groups in the metro Denver area. They  have three sons, Joshua, Sam and Jakob.

RABBI Rick Rheins became inspired to share his passion for Torah living on a kibbutz and participating in a work-study program in Safed called Livnot U’lehibanot. Working in a hospital during the First Lebanon war in 1982, Rheins came to understand the importance of the survival of Israel.

As Temple Sinai’s senior rabbi, Rheins is grateful for his success in taking over for Rabbi Zwerin and leading one of Denver’s largest congregations with new classes, programs for all ages and the goal of helping every Jew find a place in the community

Q: What is new at Sinai?

A: Sinai is buzzing with activity. We have taken our music program to a new level with a teen music group with 20-30 teens and it’s explosive. The energy of these young people coming to services has been outstanding.

Every week we have special programs for people at all levels sharing their own thoughts in education classes for adults that engage all kinds of different interests. We also have the social programs with our brotherhood, sisterhood and our social action program.

Every Tuesday, we have a volunteer English language acquisition where congregation members teach English, reading and writing to new immigrants.

With 65 B’nai Mitzvah a year, we hold a B’nai Mitzvah service along with a lay led service each Saturday called the Shabbat Minyan. This service gives our members the opportunity to read Torah, share divrei Torah and learn.

Q: What makes Sinai different?

A: We try to empower every person in the community to let them know the Torah is there, the community is there, and the power of the congregation is there.

We want to bring out their energy and enthusiasm with their faith. We offer opportunities to participate, lead, experience and celebrate.

There are many different portals of entrance into the community.  We are very welcoming to interfaith families. On any given day, you will see hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds engaged in their faith inside our congregation’s walls — that’s Sinai.

Q: How do you stay on top of everything?

A: I work really hard, but I love it. It’s like having children. You get married and have a baby and are so happy, but so busy. If you think one child is hard, imagine having another. It’s exponentially harder, but what happens? You find the energy because you love it. I feel the same way about my congregation.

Also, we have a great staff and a wonderful board of leaders. Our lay staff and clergy work hard together because we believe in and love what we do.

Q: What is your number one goal for Temple Sinai and the Denver community?

A: Within Sinai, it’s to make sure every single Jew knows that they matter. Denver is blessed to have many congregations, which is important because no congregation is right for every person, but everyone matters.

As president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinic Council, I have created a board of peers for all the Jewish organizations and congregations. We need to get beyond the competition, that which divides us, and seek cooperation. We explore ways of reaching out to all Jews who are unaffiliated or under-engaged.

Q: How has Reform Judaism changed since you have been at Sinai?

A: The Reform movement is much more traditionally observant today.

I came from a Reform congregation in Indianapolis and it was very strong on community service and restoring faith, building interfaith bridges with cooperation and respect.

In modern day Reform Judaism, we have preserved that level of importance for social action and reaching out, while we have become more observant.

We have added the personal expression of prayer and study in the synagogue and in the home.

Q: How was it taking over for Rabbi Zwerin, a long time and beloved rabbi?

A: It’s always hard. I succeeded a founding rabbi in Pittsburgh as well.

There is only one formula for success: to work as hard as you can, to give every ounce of your neshamah and put your heart and soul to your community.

I still do not take it for granted that I have been so lucky. If at the end of the day you give it everything you have, G-d takes care of the rest.

Q: Who leads? The rabbi or the congregation?

A: It is a symbiotic relationship.

I tell young couples doing marriage counseling with me that when you have a dispute it’s important that you resolve it in a way so that no one feels like one person won because that implies that the other lost. When you loose, the connection is threatened.

It is the same in a synagogue. When we have a partnership, our lay leaders staff and clergy all have passions, roles and perspectives that are sacred. We share them to enrich each other and find a mutually acceptable balance.

Q: What is your favorite topic on the bimah?

A: Israel is my passion.

The love of Israel is a value and its doesn’t matter if you are liberal or conservative, Likud or Barak – beyond disagreement, the security and welfare of our brothers and sisters are of paramount concern.

Q: Who is your role model?

A: Rabbi Walter Jacob from Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh and president of the Solomon Freehof Institute of Progressive Halacha, who also installed me at Sinai.

He was a great congregational rabbi who really devoted himself to his pulpit, a great scholar who also found time to write articles, teach and develop programs that had an impact beyond his congregation

He was the sweetest, most caring, open person.

I thought, wow, that is someone to emulate.

I could never say I have been able to achieve that, but he is a hero I strive to be like.

Q: What is your favorite parsha?

A: Whatever parsha is that week.

I teach a weekly Torah class and every week I tell my class that the parsha of the week has the best content and is so awesome that it is probably my favorite — and everyone laughs because I say the same thing about the parsha before, the coming parsha and the one after that.

If you really had to look at one, Va’etchanan is the single parsha in which you have the Ten Commandments and the Shema. How could you beat that? It is so rich you could spend a decade on it.

But then again, they are all wonderful.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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