Rabbi David Wilfond

A match made in heaven: Rabbi David Wilfond joins Andover’s Temple Emanuel

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A match made in heaven: Rabbi David Wilfond joins Andover’s Temple Emanuel

Rabbi David Wilfond

From Kyiv to London to Jerusalem – and now, to Andover: World-roving Rabbi David Wilfond has been unanimously approved by Temple Emanuel as the next spiritual leader.

“We are so excited to welcome Rabbi Wilfond to Temple Emanuel,” said Dana Katz, president of the Andover temple’s board. “Because of his deep knowledge of and passion for synagogue life, he’s a tremendous teacher who brings warmth and experience to his rabbinate, he shares his passion for Judaism with his sermons, exceptional educational programs, and a warm, caring pastoral presence for all ages. We couldn’t be happier to have him coming to share his many talents with us in the Merrimack Valley.”

Wilfond, who grew up in Edison, N.J., received his rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 1997. He spent the following two years serving as a rabbi in Kyiv, Ukraine, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He returned to the United States in 1999 and served as an associate rabbi in Wellesley for five years before making aliyah and working as a rabbi and educator at HUC in Jerusalem. He moved to London in 2010 with his wife, Deborah (who is from England), and then went back to Israel to serve as director of education of NFTY, the Reform youth movement. He returned to the U.S. to serve as rabbi in a synagogue in Westchester County, N.Y., in 2020, and now he looks forward to returning to the Boston area to join the community in Andover.

“There’s what attracts you to first come, and then there’s what makes you want to dig in, and stay,” Wilfond said. “What attracted me when I first came really was just the idea that it was in the Boston area, because I really respect the intellectual culture of the Boston area. But what really made me want to accept the position after it was offered was the kindness of the leaders, and the clear sense of partnership. This isn’t people looking for a rabbi to lead them as an autocrat, or looking for a rabbi to serve them like a gardener or a mechanic. There wasn’t a sense of ‘vertical hierarchy,’ but a true sense of ‘horizontal health’ and collaboration.”

Temple Emanuel is a Reform congregation founded in 1920 that moved to its current location in 1979. Rabbi Max Chaiken left the congregation at the end of 2023 after two years of service, and Rabbi Jessica Spitalnic Mates has served as interim since. Temple Emanuel previously had two long-term, now emeritus rabbis: Rabbi Harry A. Roth (retired in 1990) and Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein (retired in 2021).

The search committee began looking for a new rabbi back in October. The committee was comprised of 16 members from a wide range of congregants in the temple, and was headed by members and former board presidents Dana Cohen and Kathe Tuttman. After a lengthy research, application, and interview process, the search committee voted unanimously to recommend Wilfond as its top choice. The recommendation was quickly followed by consecutive unanimous approvals from the executive committee, the board of governors, and the congregation.

“On the very first Zoom call, he had me at ‘Shalom,’” said Cohen. “You just got that sense, right from the initial interview, that he cared about us. And we needed that compassion from him.”

“I think what struck us, what struck me, and all of our committee members the most was his warmth, his compassion, his kindness, and his intellect,” said Tuttman. “The combination of those qualities – he is an incredible educator and he’s really a truly inspirational speaker and teacher and leader.”

The enthusiasm goes both ways. “The interview process is more like getting to know people,” Wilfond said. “It’s kind of like when you open up a package, and there’s another beautiful layer of wrapping and then another beautiful layer of wrapping, and you realize, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so nice.’ And then you get to meet new people inside. And the people have been warm and inviting and friendly, transparent, very open to share their dreams, their hopes, concerns of the future, concerns of their own, individually and communally, and I have such respect for that kind of trust and partnership. Those are key ingredients for a healthy congregation.”

Wilfond will be moving to Andover this summer with Deborah and their three children, Rafi (3rd grade), Eliora (5th grade) and Isaac (7th grade). His role officially begins July 1, and the temple will hold an installation ceremony in September. Θ

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