Rock 'n Roll Rabbi Uses Technology to Spread His Message
Rabbi David Paskin is also known as the World Wide Reb and uses the Internet to increase the size of his community.
Rabbi David Paskin is revolutionizing the way he reaches his congregants – through his inspirational weekly services at Temple Beth Abraham, as the Rock ‘n Roll Rabbi with his two bands, Rock Tov and Shirav, and in philosophical webcast discussions in his weekly video blog as the World Wide Reb.
“I hope that I spend a lot of time teaching and I hope I spend a lot of time inspiring,” said the charismatic Rabbi on a recent afternoon visit. “I’m one of those people who are really blessed to do something they love. I get to spend all day thinking about really big, meaningful questions.”
“Rabbi David,” as he is known to his congregants, is a graduate of Brandeis University and the Academy for Jewish Religion. For 13 years, he has been the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Abraham – an inclusive Synagogue in town. The Rabbi says the temple is on the “cutting edge of social issues,” allows gay marriage and welcomes those of non-Jewish faith as part of its Canton congregation.
In addition to be being progressive in Canton, Rabbi David has been progressive in using technology to spread his teachings worldwide.
“I’ve always been kind of techy,” said Rabbi David, who describes himself as a Type A personality. “I really enjoy the new technology; I love finding ways to be more productive…to get more done in less time.”
Paskin said the Internet can be an incredibly powerful tool but should never be seen as a replacement for person-to-person contact. He does say, however, that there are people who feel most comfortable contacting him only through his blog or Facebook, including some of his Temple Beth Abraham congregants.
His many YouTube postings (such as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSPTI8DTh2o) have had more than 100,000 hits in total so he knows he is reaching many people.
“I’ve always told myself that my call is to touch one person’s life,” said Rabbi David. “In some small way, this allows me to do that.”
Paskin tells the story of one blog fan who was concerned about being able to find spiritual life outside the Jewish faith. Rabbi David counseled him.
“It’s powerful moments like that,” he said, that make his work rewarding and encourage him to reach out further.
Rabbi David would also like to use technology to create a “Pray Date” – a way of letting people know who is going to be at what service on what day.
“The idea behind Pray Date is that praying is always more fun and easier when you’re doing it with friends so let’s use this ‘friend-ing’ technology to let people know whose going to be at Synagogue,” he said. “There is a huge group of people who, I think, are intimidated; they don’t know what’s going on, they don’t really like talking to God, there’s all this baggage that a lot of us carry that makes it a little uncomfortable.”
Also on his “Rabbi wish list” is the creation of a spiritual community that moves away from the consumer approach (“I pay you dues and you give me something in return”) and moves toward the development of a supportive mutually-beneficial community.
“We’re all in this together and the commitment that we make to this community isn’t just about getting back what we need, it’s about enhancing the community for ourselves and everybody else,” he said.
The community would have to decide what it is they value and then require its membership to support that value. “I dream of a community that truly understands what it values and then holds the members of its community accountable to embody those values,” said Rabbi David. “The downside to that is that not everybody is looking for that kind of community…I do have this dream of creating something that is nurturing and sustaining beyond its own fiscal needs.”
The Canton Rabbi has a special connection with young people. “Really, my primary goal when it comes to children is to build positive Jewish memories,” he said, just hours before taking 26 children snowtubing at Nashoba Valley. “I think that says a lot, that they want to hang out with their Rabbi. It’s important that they’re happy, that they’re proud of who they are.”
He also teaches music at the South Area Solomon Schechter Day School in Norwood. “At the end of the day, if God is going to judge me by ‘Have you changed one person’s life?’ I think the answer is ‘yes’ and that’s something that this [Temple Beth Abraham] community has allowed me to do, to connect in a very powerful way.”
The busy rabbi also serves as Jewish chaplain at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “After my daughter passed away, I felt a real desire to be there,” said Rabbi David of his second daughter Liat Chanina who was diagnosed at 21-months-old with a very rare and aggressive brain tumor. She died a short time later.
“I want them to find a cure, but my heart is in helping people who are going through their struggle,” the rabbi, who serves as a member of the Advisory Council of the National Brain Tumor Society, said. “People who have lost loved ones, people who are struggling with tumors themselves.”
In their daughter’s memory, the Paskin family created the Liat Chanina Foundation “in memory of a very little girl who made a very big difference.” Each year, the Liat Chanina Foundation sponsors ‘Liati’s Kids’ Korner’ at the Brain Tumor Society’s Ride for Research.
“We create a mini-carnival kind of thing to cheer on the parents who ride,” Paskin said. “We have clowns, balloon artists, arts and crafts, it’s a lot of fun.”
The Canton rabbi currently lives in Sharon with his wife Heather, his daughters Dalia, Ayelet, Naomi and the memory of his daughter Liat.