Rabbi David B. Kudan is the spiritual leader of Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody. Kudan, whose father was a Reform rabbi, grew up in the Midwest. In 1973, he met Barbara Abrams on a high school trip to Israel, and years later the two married. He went to Hampshire College, where he wrote his thesis on the impact of the printing press on early Yiddish publishing. After working in stock options for a year, he enrolled in the rabbinic studies program at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and became a rabbi. He has served as a rabbi at several congregations, including Harvard Hillel, Temple Shir Tikvah of Winchester and at Am Shalom, a congregation that his father founded in Glencoe, IL. Rabbi Kudan and his wife Barbara live in Cambridge, and have two children, Ariel Nadav and Talia Ma’ayan.
Tell us about your upbringing
I was born in 1957 in Cincinnati, Ohio. My father was completing his last year at Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion in the rabbinic program, and my mother did graduate work at the University of Cincinnati. We moved to Bloomington, IL, where my father was employed as the first full-time rabbi of Moses Montefiore Temple there. When I was five, we moved again to Glencoe, IL, where my father served at North Shore Congregation Israel. During that time my father was very active in the Civil Rights movement, and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama. Later, when I was in high school, my father started a new congregation, Am Shalom, which became a major Reform synagogue on the North Shore of Lake Michigan. I was very active in the new temple, teaching religious school, leading the youth group and pursuing Judaic Studies and Hebrew. A formative experience was the trip to Israel I took the summer after 10th grade, with the Habonim Zionist movement. Through that trip, I met my wife Barbara Abrams. That summer of 1973 was a time of great optimism in Israel. I made life-long connections to members of Kibbutz Urim where my group volunteered, spent time with family in Tel Aviv, and toured the country.
You went to Hampshire College in Amherst. How was that experience?
In 1975, I enrolled in Hampshire College, in Amherst. At Hampshire, the interdisciplinary structure allowed me to pursue interests in Photography, Yiddish, Hebrew, Jewish History, and other subjects. I spent a summer as the assistant photographer at Tel Halif in the Negev, then stayed on for a year at Hebrew University. I later returned to complete my studies at Hampshire, where I wrote a thesis on the impact of the printing press on early Yiddish publishing, using original sources in Hebrew and Yiddish. I would add that having the freedom to follow my academic interests wherever they might lead was exciting and liberating. At Hampshire, I was inspired by wonderful scholars and fellow students. One of my friends from that time is Aaron Lansky, who encouraged my interest in Jewish History and Yiddish. Aaron went on to found the Yiddish Book Center.
You lived in Paris also?
After college, I returned to Chicago, and was hired to work in stock options. I only planned to stay on the job for a year, but as I reconnected with my (future) wife Barbara, stayed on for another year and we were engaged and then married. I was always interested in Jewish studies and felt drawn to the rabbinic role as well. My father has always been a great model, and from my childhood I loved to listen to him speak with groups of visitors to the temple, officiate at services, teach and counsel. I realized when I was commuting to Chicago for my work on the Options Exchange, that I was reading Yiddish novels and everyone else was reading the Wall Street Journal. I loved tutoring bar mitzvah students during that time as well.
I then enrolled in Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Barbara and I spent the first year of my rabbinic studies in Jerusalem, where she attended Ulpan, and I devoted myself to intensive studies. Back in Cincinnati, I continued my studies for a year, and Barbara enrolled in a PhD program in French Literature at the University of Cincinnati. As she was given an opportunity to study at the Sorbonne for a year, I was given special permission to pause my rabbinic studies and serve as a student rabbi at a congregation in Paris, the MJLF, under the auspices of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. I also attended courses in Biblical studies, Aramaic, and Semitic Epigraphy at the Catholic Institute of Paris, studying with renowned Biblical scholars of the Franciscan and Jesuit tradition.
In Cincinnati, I accelerated my studies, concentrating in Aramaic and writing a rabbinic thesis on the Aramaic Proverbs of Ahiqar, a legendary ancient sage. During those years I served as student rabbi in Jonesboro, AK, Bloomington, IL (my childhood Temple), Alpena, MI, and Glencoe, IL.
You also worked at Temple Shir Tikvah of Winchester
After Ordination, I took my first pulpit as assistant rabbi in Yonkers, NY, and Barbara transferred her PhD pro- gram to Columbia, University. Our first child, son Ariel Nadav was born during our second year in New York, and then we moved to Arlington, where I was enrolled in a PhD program in Hebrew Bible at Harvard, and also employed part-time at the newly formed Temple Shir Tikvah of Winchester. The temple grew from 60 members to over 200 during that period. In addition to working hard to build the congregation, including rotating services between Stoneham, Winchester and Arlington, I was very engaged in interfaith work with local clergy in those three communities. I also made it a priority of my rabbinate to welcome and include intermarried couples in my congregation and the Jewish community at large.
You also served as a rabbi at a congregation that your father started?
Our daughter, Talia Ma’ayan was born in 1994. Soon thereafter, we moved to Glencoe, IL, where I became associate rabbi at Am Shalom, with my father, at the temple he had founded.
I was very proud of my work at the temple, where I created many dynamic programs, including an afternoon drop-in program for Hebrew School students, and adult education courses in areas of my academic interests. When Barbara was offered a very exciting position in her field at Suffolk University in Boston, we made the difficult decision to leave Chicago and return to the Boston area. We moved to Cambridge, where we have resided since 2001. I had the unique opportunity to serve as the rabbi of the Reform minyan at Harvard Hillel, as well as taking on the role of director of Community Relations. It was a challenging time to work as a campus rabbi, as I began the week of 9/11. After three years, the late Rev. Peter Gomes created a position for me as Rabbi in Residence at the Memorial Church at Harvard.
In the intervening years, I chaired the Ethics Committee of the Beacon Hospice, and then served simultaneously as rabbi of Agudas Achim-Ezrath Israel in Malden, and also Temple Tifereth Israel of Malden. Serving congregations of two different movements, Conservative and Reform was a creative stretch, but both communities helped to make it work, and allowed me to serve both as full-time rabbi.
You were involved in the merger of Temple Tifereth Israel of Malden and Temple Beth Shalom of Peabody?
When Temple Tifereth Israel of Malden combined with Temple Beth Shalom of Peabody in 2015, I helped to support the merger. The two Reform congregations were a natural fit, and became Temple Tiferet Shalom (dropping the last h in Tifereth for reasons of pronunciation). It has been a very happy combination, and I have had the privilege of serving as rabbi in Peabody since the merger.
Some of my proudest achievements, aside from encouraging and supporting the merger, was the creation of an extensive adult education program, (often collaborating with our sister congregation in Peabody, Temple Ner Tamid) with the Lappin Foundation, and other local groups. I have also served as co-president of the North Shore Association of Rabbis and Cantors, and as an active member of the Peabody Clergy and Ministerial Association.
When you’re not in synagogue how do you like to best spend your time?
During the pandemic, we have held some remarkable joint educational programs between TST and the Cork/Munster Jewish Community. (Munster includes the six southern counties of Ireland.)
How is your congregation different than prior temples you’ve served as spiritual
Temple Tiferet Shalom has come through a consolidation that has released a great deal of new energy and enthusiasm, and also brought forward strong new leaders, representing something of a generational shift. The congregation is poised to renew itself in a significant way. The focus is on building from within, and also reaching out to the wide geographical area within which TTS is the only Reform congregation.
The temple has a very down-to-earth character. So many people love the temple, the school, and the community and want to create a very welcoming atmosphere. It is also big enough to offer a full range of programs and activities, but small enough to feel that everyone can know one another.