Torat Yisrael welcomes our new Rabbi, Aaron Philmus, after an exhaustive search.
“Rabbi Philmus is an exciting and energizing person who brings a fresh outlook to the needs of a changing Jewish community,” said newly elected President Andrew Sholes, who led a 12-member Rabbinic Search Committee. “He’s a dynamic personality that will stimulate the congregation to be active participants.”
Philmus, 36, said he’s excited to come to East Greenwich.
“This is a perfect fit and perfect timing to take the torch from Rabbi Levin, who has done a tremendous job for the synagogue over the past 10 years,” he said. “My wife, Valerie, grew up in Worcester, [Massachusetts], and New England is where we want to be. We like the Jewish culture in this part of the country.”
Sholes said Philmus was chosen from a large and diverse candidate pool because he was the right fit for the congregation. “He has good experience as a rabbi, having served two other congregations,” he said.
Rabbi Aaron will bring a traditional style and approach of prayer to the conservative synagogue. He has a background in ecology and Jewish education and teaches Torah through agriculture and wilderness skills.
“He’s a naturalist who believes that everything stems from nature,” said Sholes, who thinks Rabbi Aaron will be a great custodian of the temple’s community garden, which provides vegetables for local food shelters. “Rabbi Aaron understands the plight of others who are less fortunate, and how to use the land to enrich ourselves.”
“I feel closest to God when I’m in nature,” Philmus noted. “I believe that’s where you feel the purity and power of God’s creative force. I’d like to do a Shabbat on the trails, conducting parts of the service along the way.”
The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City were a major catalyst for Rabbi Aaron in his pursuit of a career as a rabbi. It took him several hours to discover if his father and brother-in-law, who worked in the World Trade Center, were alive after the tragedy. In the aftermath, he decided to become a rabbi and enrolled in the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
“The incident was a trigger for me. There are people in this world who will twist religion to do horrible things,” Philmus said. “And I felt I needed to be part of a group who was steering the ship in a positive direction amidst the chaos and negativity. That’s why I decided to pursue a path as a rabbi.”
Rabbi Aaron Philmus had served as senior rabbi at the Congregational Brothers of Israel in Newtown, Pennsylvania, since August 2012. He began his career as a rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in San Francisco, California, where he served as director of congregational life and learning from July 2009 to August 2012. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he obtained a bachelor of science degree in 2000.
Rabbi Aaron, who plays the guitar, said he plans on bringing music to the synagogue.
“Music is like nature. It’s a universal language,” he said. “I will inject music into the service since the synagogue doesn’t have a fixed cantor. I can also help connect with the younger generations through my music and teachings.”
Rabbi Aaron and his family will reside in housing on the temple’s property. His wife Valerie is a professional chef, and their two children are 4-year-old Aeden and 7-year-old Sophie.
Our Professional Staff
Dori Adler, Education Director
Dori Adler has been teaching in the Jewish community for the past two decades. A native of Cranston, Dori graduated from the University of Rhode Island with two Bachelors of Arts Degrees in Psychology and Women Studies. She has a long history with Rhode Island’s Jewish community, especially with Torat Yisrael, first as a student and Bat Mitzvah, and later as a Judaics teacher. As a youth, she continued her Jewish education at the Harry Elkin Midrasha Community High School, and enjoyed many years as a camper and counselor at Camp JORI.
Dori has been a creative and valued instructor at Congregation Beth David’s South County Hebrew School, Torat Yisrael’s Cohen School and at Temple Am David’s Louis and Goldie Chester Religious School. She currently is a substitute teacher at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island.
Dori is an active member of her children's school P.T.O. board, serving most recently as Vice President, and was the John Wickes Elementary School, Volunteers of Warwick (VOWS) Coordinator for three years. She loves to read, travel with her family, and enjoys running and hiking with her dog, Cece. Dori resides in Warwick with her husband and two children.
Amy Small, LICSW - Kesher Social Worker
Amy Small is the Kesher Social Worker for Torat Yisrael. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. The Kesher program provides a synagogue-based social worker to assist members of the congregation during life transitions and crises. Kesher also serves as a gateway to additional social services provided both within the Jewish community and in the broader community. Amy is available to meet with congregants, families, and individuals for short-term counseling, information and referral, crisis intervention, or just to talk. These services are all provided on a confidential basis.
In addition, Kesher provides programming on topics of family life and social concerns such as parenting teens, internet safety, caring for aging parents, alcoholism and addictions in the Jewish community, raising children with special needs, managing daily stress, and more. If you have a concern or need for which you would like to see the community respond, please contact Amy to discuss. She also writes monthly articles included in the Torat newsletter on various wellness and mental health topics.
Amy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 401-338-8301.
Steve Blazer, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Tutor
I’m a product of Providence’s Temple Emanu-El religious school, which I attended from grades 3 through 8. I then attended Hebrew High, also at Emanu-El, from grades 9 through 12. The curriculum included Bible (in Hebrew), an introduction to Mishnah, and an introduction to Rashi’s Torah commentaries.
While I only had to learn Haftarah trope for my Bar Mitzvah, I always wanted to learn to do more, so in high school I took the opportunity to learn Torah trope as well. Through the years I’ve also learned the High Holy Day Torah trope and the various tropes for the five Megillot (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Megillat Esther).
In my teenage years I was an active member of Temple Emanu-El USY, and I went to Camp Ramah in Palmer, Mass. for three summers. After college I joined and became active in the Temple Emanu-El Men’s Club. In 1979, under the auspices of the Men’s Club, I had my first teaching experience, which was teaching basic Hebrew reading to about a dozen adults. I found this experience to be immensely rewarding.
In 1981, I became a gabbai at Temple Emanu-El, and I have been doing this labor of love ever since. I’m a regular Shabbat and holiday shul-goer, and I have become fairly proficient through the years at leading all parts of the weekday, Shabbat, and holiday services (with the exception of High Holiday services, which I think are best left to the professionals).
I was a Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor at Temple Torat Yisrael from 2001 to 2003, during which time I got to work with many wonderful kids and their families. I’m excited to be coming back to doing this kind of work again.
Since 2004, I’ve been improving my fluency in modern Hebrew by taking Ulpan classes with the incomparable Ruti Ben-Yehuda Adler.
On September 8, 2012, I’ll get to experience the naches of participating in my own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah at Temple Emanu-El and look forward to seeing her grow in Jewish learning throughout her life.
I look forward to working with a new group of Bar/Bat Mitzvah students, and I wish everyone at Temple Torat Yisrael a Shanah Tovah.