What makes you so passionate about Judaism?
When I was about seven or eight years old, my maternal grandmother came to live with us. She grew up in the Shtetl of Gomel in what today is Belarus. Coming home each day from school, my grandmother would share stories about her life in the Shtetl. From these stories, I gleaned a passion for the survival of the Jewish people.
When I was ten years old, attending Hebrew School four days a week, I was inspired by my Cantor and by the Education Director of my childhood congregation. The holiness that entered my soul through sacred music and the love of a pioneer people for a new Jewish homeland resonated through me and enriched my very being.
As an adult, I realize the texts of the Jewish people is my story. It is a story that I want to share with the world. Understanding that the Jewish people have a message to share with the entire world, that there is meaning to life and that God is at the center of everything.
Sharing my life with my wife Karen has added another dimension of spirituality to the core of my being. Her love and passion for learning and the Jewish people enrich me daily.
What drew you to the rabbinate?
My road to the rabbinate is unusual. Having decided that I wanted to dedicate my life to the Jewish people at a very young age when others were playing baseball, I was playing synagogue. I entered Cantorial School right after college. I received my ordination and a degree in Jewish education at the same time. Though I had the good fortune to serve two congregations as Cantor-Educator, I never felt fulfilled.
In my early years at Temple Emanu-El, I led the congregation while the synagogue searched for a new Senior Rabbi. I needed more knowledge and I began studying rabbinic texts with a study partner by telephone. For eighteen months, I was the sole spiritual leader of the congregation. My study continued for sixteen years. Being offered rabbinic ordination, I had a conversation with my wife Karen, and she said: “You have always been a rabbi; you might as well get the title.” I accepted and continued to serve Temple Emanu-El along with the other clergy.
What is the spiritual background of your early years?
My parents were highly assimilated secular Jews. The grandmother who lived with us was a member of the Workmen’s Circle (Yiddishe Arbeiter Ring) and had no use for ritual but was culturally Jewish and the house rang with Yiddishkeit.
When I convinced my parents I wanted to become a Bar Mitzvah, they went shul shopping and we joined a Reform temple on the Westside of Los Angeles. As I entered the synagogue for the first time, I heard the Cantor singing and I was immediately attracted to Jewish music. Every activity I participated in from that moment on was synagogue-centered. My parents eventually joined the temple choir and became very active.
Jewish camping and Jewish learning were my biggest interests. I was a “shul nerd.”
Leaving L.A. the day after Karen and I married to attend HUC-JIR in New York, I came under the influence of some incredible thinkers like Dr. Henry Slonimsky z’l, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz z’l and Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman who opened new worlds of philosophy and theology to me.
What is your educational background?
I hold degrees from UCLA, NYU, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Rabbinical Academy of America. In 1992, the Reform Movement awarded me the prestigious title of Reform Jewish Educator. In 2001, I graduated again from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion earning a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Counseling. Earlier that year, the College-Institute honored me with an honorary doctorate for outstanding service to the Jewish people.
Contact Rabbi Scott Colbert firstname.lastname@example.org