Rabbi Ruven Barkan is a relationship builder and visionary, seeking to nurture vibrant Conservative Jewish life that builds on the solid foundation of tradition for promoting inclusivity and innovation. As rabbi, educational leader, and social activist he is dedicated to bridging gaps between diverse communities, transforming Tefillah (Jewish prayer) into an engaging, accessible, and personal experience, and establishing new Torah study models tailored to the culture of each community.
Currently, he serves as Education and Youth Director at Congregation Anshei Israel and Director of the community-wide Hebrew High program, both institutions in which he grew up in his hometown, Tucson, Arizona. As an experienced Jewish educator and rabbi, he is transforming common challenges faced by the Jewish community into opportunities for personal engagement and institutional development.
He has a special interest in building bridges between people and communities. In Savannah, Georgia, he created a grassroots dialogue between members of his congregation and an African American church. At the Rochelle Zell Jewish High School he fostered dialogue among Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic teens for ten years. He also directed the faith track of Auburn Seminary’s international peace camp, Face to Face/Faith to Faith, that builds peace through dialogue in regions of conflict throughout the world, including Israel.
He wrote his Master's Thesis in Hebrew Letters from the American Jewish University on “Zionism and the Conservative Movement: Finkelstein, Heschel, and Kaplan,” and his Master's Thesis for the Jewish Theological Seminary's Davidson School of Education on “Teaching Jewish Holidays through Gardening.” He was ordained at JTS in 2001.
I was raised in a loving family and a Conservative Jewish community in Tucson, AZ. My parents sent me to a Jewish day school, the Tucson Hebrew Academy, where my first and second grade teacher, Morah Brandwein, planted a Jewish seed in my soul. She introduced me to God through bringing to life the biblical stories, taught me to read Hebrew proficiently, and shared her personal experiences in Israel, the miraculous state of the Jewish people. In short, I developed a proud Jewish identity. The religious sensibility cultivated in my early years was strong, but remained dormant throughout my childhood and adolescence. We kept kosher, but I played soccer on Saturday mornings from a young age, attending the Conservative synagogue on the occasional Shabbat, High Holidays, and simchahs. The main way that I expressed my Jewish identity was social, since my primary group of friends was Jewish.
When I sensed that I was drifting away from my Jewish connection in public school, I decided to study in Israel on a kibbutz for my Junior year of high school. I did not realize that this was a secular kibbutz. Nor did I understand the conflict in Israeli culture between religious and secular Judaism. While I learned to speak Hebrew, identified with Israelis, and gained a better understanding of Israeli culture, living in Israel led me further away, ironically, from the Jewish connection that I was trying to reclaim. When I returned, I went through a dark period not knowing where I belonged -- Israel or America, synagogue or pool hall, college or kibbutz. After a long, lonely circuitous route, I transferred into the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, now called American Jewish University, for my undergraduate studies.
Studying Judaism as a young adult opened my eyes to the sophisticated worldview beneath my strong ethnic Jewish identity but superficial understanding of Judaism. I had the privilege of studying with amazing scholars who engaged my mind in an open environment that allowed me to make me own decisions. As part of this reflective period of life, I returned to Camp Ramah as a counselor and then teacher, the camp I attended throughout my childhood. As a young adult in this stimulating Jewish environment, I integrated the different aspects of my identity through my Jewish pathway. I decided to attend rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. It was in this program that I connected with my first personal mentor, Rabbi Allan Kensky, then Dean of the rabbinical school, who remains my main Rav/mentor to this day.
I met my life partner, Adina Weber. We dated throughout my time in college, and married during rabbinical school. Our love was interwoven from the beginning with God's presence as we celebrated Shabbat and studied Torah together. We have expanded our love and family as Foster Parents.
Professionally, I have come full circle, returning to my hometown synagogue as the Education and Youth Director and Director of Hebrew High. This allows me to leverage my day school and pulpit experience to focus on the next generation which is pulled in so many directions or has disconnected completely from communal activity. I am exceedingly grateful to God for this opportunity to serve among my family and friends. I hope to fulfill my potential as one of the disciples of Aaron the Kohen, "loving and pursuing peace, loving (God's) creations and bringing them closer to Torah."