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 in his hometown, Tucson, Arizona. Combining his pulpit and Day School experience, he is directing the synagogue's Religious School and Youth programs.
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 Chicagoland Jewish High School he led a dialogue among Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic teens for ten years. He 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 socially 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. Dr. David Lieber (Z"L) taught me to study Bible with a critical and loving eye. Rabbi David Gedzelman's passionate psychological insights into the weekly Torah portions touched my soul. As my Hillel rabbi, he empowered us to build an intentional Jewish community on campus. Rabbis David Wolpe and Miryam Glazer, my English and History professors, opened up the sacredness of all literature for me. In rabbinical school, Elliot Dorff introduced me to a multitude of Jewish thinkers and presented Conservative Judaism as the compelling and authentic ideology that it is. Eliezer Slomovic (Z"L) transported nostalgic traditional Jewish life into an egalitarian halachic setting. Later, when I continued on to rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, I connected with my first personal mentor, Rabbi Allan Kensky, then Dean of the rabbinical school, who remains my main mentor to this day.
It was in this stimulating environment, coupled with returning as a counselor during the summers at Camp Ramah, where I attended throughout my childhood, that I discovered a meaningful way of life in Judaism that enabled me to integrate the different aspects of my identity. In this context, I met my life partner. We dated throughout my time in college, and we married during rabbinical school. Adina Weber was raised in a household firmly rooted in Conservative Judaism. Our love grew through and with our observance of tradition -- celebrating Shabbat and studying together -- as it continues to do so today.
My journey through the Conservative movement came full circle when I accepted my first position out of rabbinical school in at the Chicagoland Jewish High School, a Conservative Jewish high school. Repairing the confusing Jewish experience I had during this formative period, serving as Rabbi-in-Residence gave me the opportunity to help shape the identity of teens within the supportive, traditional, and open environment of Conservative Judaism. We created a counter-culture that challenged the mind by studying Judaism's primary sacred texts, enlivened the heart through acts of chesed and tzedek (kindness and justice), and nurtured the soul by providing students multiple ways to express and explore their Jewish identity.
My experience serving as the rabbi of Congregation Agudath Achim brought to life my vision of Conservative Judaism. The synagogue community embraced my optimistic passion that I expressed through weekly sermons. I responded to their intellectual and spiritual hunger by making our traditional texts relevant through sustained learning opportunities, inviting critique and dispelling cynicism by engaging basic questions of faith. Most significantly, our community reached beyond our walls to interact with the larger Jewish and general society in ways that promoted peace and understanding though community organizing.
Now I have come full circle, returning to my hometown synagogue as the Education and Youth Director. 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."