July 17, 2024
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Rabbi Yoni Zolty Joins Lincoln Square Synagogue

Rabbi Yoni Zolty is no stranger to new communities—after moving from Geneva, Switzerland, to Denver, Colorado, at the age of 2, he moved with his family once again a decade later to Teaneck. Now, the young rabbi is putting down roots in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, serving as the new assistant rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue. Following several years of visiting the synagogue as a ba’al koreh, during which his wife, Rabbanit Mindy Schwartz Zolty, served as a community intern, Rabbi Zolty ultimately decided that Lincoln Square was the ideal place to launch his lifelong rabbinic career.

A quick glance at Rabbi Zolty’s resume would not necessarily indicate that he has always wanted to be a rabbi. With a bachelor of arts degree in physics and English from Columbia University, he explained that he determined his rabbinic career path as a junior in college. “It didn’t really affect my day-to-day as a student,” he said. “[But] I’ve always had an interest in Jewish texts, and I realized this was my passion, and this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” And so, the young college graduate enrolled as a semicha student at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) at Yeshiva University, which he is set to complete this year.

Rabbi Zolty described the plethora of reasons why Lincoln Square appealed to him, and why he was so excited to take the pulpit in July of this year. “Everyone is so friendly and nice,” he shared. “The community is especially friendly to its rabbinic staff and clergy.”

He continued by singing the praises of Rabbi Shaul Robinson, who has been senior rabbi at Lincoln Square for 16 years. “Not only is Rabbi Robinson a fantastic pastoral leader, but he is a great mentor and boss,” which of course, solidified Rabbi Zolty’s decision to make this his first formal rabbinic position. “Rabbi Robinson has a keen sense of the ‘religious moment,’ and how to respond to the way people are feeling at any given time. I’ve seen him in many pastoral settings, and the community as a whole has responded very well to his leadership during his time at the synagogue.”

The community has also received Rabbi Zolty and Rabbanit Schwartz Zolty, who is serving as a community scholar, very well. She is also no stranger to the Upper West Side, having grown up in Manhattan just slightly north. Rabbanit Schwartz’s father is Rabbi Allen Schwartz, a beloved Tanach specialist at Yeshiva University and mara d’asra of Congregation Ohab Zedek on 95th Street. With strong scholarly backgrounds, both have led dynamic classes and shiurim at the shul. “I think people really enjoy them, and I’ve received a lot of positive feedback; people love to talk to me about what I’ve said,” Rabbi Zolty shared.

He described Lincoln Square’s rich history as part of the draw to this position. “The shul was founded by Rabbi Steven [Shlomo] Riskin in the 1960s, and it was originally meant to be a place for people who didn’t have a home in a traditional shul,” Rabbi Zolty explained. “In the years since, the shul has expanded, and I would say that now most families come from traditional backgrounds. But I think that mindset of being welcoming and nonjudgmental—and allowing everyone to thrive in their own way—has carried over.”

The community’s emphasis on being welcoming and inclusive is something that Rabbi Zolty has found particularly special since becoming assistant rabbi at Lincoln Square. When asked to reflect on his favorite moment so far, he recalled a story from this summer which was “emblematic of the communal feeling of the shul.” As the leader of the Rabbi Herschel Cohen Memorial minyan, which takes place on Lincoln Square’s outdoor terrace Shabbat mornings, Rabbi Zolty described an instance when the minyan attendees looked out for one another. “We had recently changed the time of the minyan from 9:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., and due to some miscommunication, there was someone who was in aveilut who showed up a little late and missed saying Kaddish,” he shared. “We all came together and decided to do an extra Kaddish for him at the end; it seems like a small moment, but I felt that this reflected that each community member felt responsible for one another.”

Overall, Rabbi Zolty has gained a lot from the short months he’s been able to interact with the community. “I’ve been inspired by the shul and its leadership; I feel honored to be a part of such a rich and fantastic synagogue.”

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