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New Rabbi Drawn to Temple Sinai by Focus on Social Action

Andrew Straus joined the synagogue in July.

Name: Andrew Straus

Age: 49

Occupation: Rabbi at Temple Sinai

What inspired you to make the move to Temple Sinai?

I wasn’t looking for a new job. I had been at Temple Emanuel in Tempe, AZ for 13 years, and we have many friends there. But my wife saw a notice for a new rabbi at Temple Sinai that listed all the things that are important to me in my work—social justice, social action, adult learning opportunities, a great staff, and the temple has a long and rich tradition. … And I was excited to work with a larger congregation—there are nearly 1,000 member families here… 

I decided to take the challenge, and am finding it an exciting and dynamic place to be. 

How do you see your role here?

I see the world through Jewish eyes, as God’s partner in repairing and fixing the world, which is a key Jewish value. ... My responsibility doesn’t end with the Jewish community, but I believe my faith helps me see the uniqueness, specialness, and holiness of life, and helps us to see the world with a sense of awe. 

How does that translate to living and working in this urban setting?

My goal is to listen, to learn about the issues and the challenges, and the successes. I’m still getting to know the community

Why did you choose to be a rabbi?

It’s a job that combines all the things I love and want to do—educator, counselor, program building, touching and sharing in people’s lives, and to share the gifts of Judaism. 

I grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY, where my family belonged to a liberal, conservative synagogue. I started college at the University of Rhode Island, then transferred to Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. I majored in history, mostly modern European. While I was there, I slowly but steadfastly realized that I wanted to become a rabbi. I looked at other things I could do, but was drawn to this work, so after I graduated I went to Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati, OH.

My first job was in a synagogue in New City, New York, where I celebrated 130 bar mitzvah’s the first year! After four years, I took the Director of Education and Family Education Assistant Rabbi position at Peninsula Temple Shalom in Burlingame, then moved to Tempe.

My wife Karen worked in product management in Silicon Valley, and now works as a graphic designer. I have three children, Carly, 17, and Elana, 14, both at Bishop O’Dowd College Prep in Oakland, and Michael, 12, at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley. 

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