Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael recently appointed Rabbi Chaim Strauchler as its new rabbi, replacing Rabbi Yosef Adler, who is retiring after leading the shul since 1979. Rabbi Strauchler comes to Rinat from Shaarei Shomayim Congregation in Toronto, Canada, where he’s been the rabbi since 2008. Previously, he was the leader of Beit Chaverim Synagogue in Westport, Connecticut, for three years.
Rabbi Strauchler spoke with The Jewish Link relating how “thrilled” he is to be joining the Rinat community and is “very excited to be in the center of Modern Orthodoxy in a proudly Modern Orthodox community which exemplifies the best of Judaism.”
Rabbi Strauchler, originally from West Orange, attended JEC in his early years, going on to learn at Yeshivat Har Etzion for three years and then at Yeshiva University where he earned a bachelor’s in English literature and semicha from RIETS. He continued his impressive academic career, receiving multiple master’s degrees, studying at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and Bernard Revel Graduate School as a Wexner Fellow.
Though Rabbi Strauchler was only a year old when his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Gershon Romanoff, passed away, the stories he would hear from his grandmother inspired his path to the rabbinate—a job he loves. “It’s a real zechut to have the opportunity to serve Am Yisrael and teach Torah and care for people, especially in this day and age,” shared Rabbi Strauchler. His rebbe, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein from Yeshivat Har Etzion, had a major impact on Rabbi Strauchler, motivating him to become a rabbi. Rav Aharon inspired him with “sichot about Moshe Rabbeinu and the need for leadership, to feel the call of ‘b’makom sh’ein ish,’” that created a passion for teaching. Another profound influence came from Rav Michael Rosensweig, his rebbe at RIETS. Rabbi Strauchler noted humbly that “rabbis do a lot of learning too,” and emphasized that each of his teachers and the many lay leaders with whom he’s interacted, both past and present, have influenced and benefited him.
Rabbi Strauchler shared that his active personality spurs him to keep his eyes and ears open and learn from the world, its ideas and conflicts. He feels a call to respond to society’s needs and “fight the world’s fights” in the words of Cecil Rhodes. He has taken that passion into his work beyond the Jewish community, engaging with the broader community in Canada—including Catholic groups—with regard to pandemic issues and the role of the religious community. At Rinat, he looks forward to the “opportunity to lead from the center and broaden the message of Modern Orthodoxy and Torah Judaism.”
Beyond his day job, Rabbi Strauchler is also involved with the Tradition Journal, whose writing “encourages communities to really understand in a detailed way what Torah U’madda means.” He is also a vice president of the RCA, and runs a program called “Debates L’Shem Shamayim,” (available on YouTube) in which rabbis come together “to debate issues in a healthy respectful way… a forum of thoughtfulness.” He has also worked with the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and serves on the Executive Vaad Harabbanim of the Kashrut Council of Canada (COR). One might think there’s not enough time in the day for all these pursuits but Rabbi Strauchler feels, “You learn by doing.”
Rabbi Strauchler’s first priority when he starts at Rinat is simply to get to know the people. “I’m going to keep my eyes open,” he said, and as he becomes more familiar and sees what the communities’ needs are, then he can formulate ideas for various classes, shiurim and new initiatives. “I want to make sure to focus on all the different constituencies—varying ages, men, women—and be creative about it, so I can meet needs and grow opportunities,” Rabbi Strauchler said.
Rabbi Adler has offered to continue to teach many of his shiurim, which is a welcome offer as the shul transitions. Rabbi Strauchler shared that when he was in high school, he heard Rabbi Adler speak at an NCSY yarchei kallah and was impressed with the shiur, thinking that with Rabbi Adler, there was “no dichotomy between the community rabbi and the talmid chacham. He showed that you can do both. And I aspire toward that model.”
Rabbi Strauchler’s wife, Avital, formerly Waltuch, who grew up in Edison, is a physical therapist and “an amazing rebbetzin who owns more than 50% of my successes,” he praised. Avital also teaches and during COVID has created a women’s shiur in shul, socially distanced, so women can have that opportunity to learn despite being in lockdown. He joked that she probably teaches more than he does, at the moment, since the pandemic has drastically shortened drashot in shul. They are eager for their five children—two in elementary, three in high school—to join the exceptional area schools, though they will of course miss all the friends they have made in their Toronto community.
The Strauchlers also have family living in the area, which will make their transition easier. Rabbi Strauchler’s sister and brother-in-law are Yael and Rabbi David Goldfischer, of Yeshivat Frisch, and Avital has a number of aunts and uncles nearby.
Rabbi Strauchler also noted that he is very “excited about The Jewish Link,” which he sees as a “great resource with influence beyond” the local community.
Rinat search committee member Leora Kukin shared, “Our committee was blessed to have received Rabbi Chaim Strauchler’s sparkling application. His extraordinary scholarship coupled with his superlative interpersonal skills and deep sensitivity checked every requirement in selecting a successor to the magnificent legacy created by Rabbi Yosef Adler.”
By Michal Rosenberg