MILWAUKEE – Rabbi Joel Dinin loves poking at Jewish history and tradition, to “understand it better” and to “see what I can find.”
Just talk to him. He’s alive with excitement over questions to talk about. When choosing a blessing, what’s the difference between bread, snacks or desserts when the ingredients are often the same? Does Judaism have Hell? Why do bad things happen to good people?
Dinin is the new rabbi at the modern Orthodox Lake Park Synagogue, which resides in a lovely mansion near University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Dinin comes to Milwaukee after completing a post-rabbinical school three-year residency. For the residency, he served as an associate rabbi at Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation in Baltimore.
In Baltimore, he ran classes to poke at Jewish thinking, his joy, that grew to about 30 weekly participants. Now, he brings his classes to Lake Park Synagogue as the “Lake Park Learning Series.” He’s holding them most Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. They are open to non-members.
One class in Baltimore was on the history of matzo. “Matzo used to be soft,” he said. “We actually know about when it became a cracker.”
It was centuries after the story of Exodus, according to Dinin. “Yemenite Jews to this day have soft matzo,” he said.
Why Lake Park?
Dinin was attracted to Lake Park Synagogue because he sees a lot of potential in it, it has a strong and devoted membership and the people are friendly and down to earth, he said.
“I’m attracted to a synagogue where, to quote ‘Cheers,’ ‘everybody knows your name.’”
At about 40 families, Lake Park is not too big to really get to know people, he said. A number of people attend services frequently.
Dinin grew up in the west valley of Los Angeles, observant but not considering himself Orthodox. He’d been raised Conservative. As a student, he connected with an Orthodox teacher and a small group of Orthodox students. “By sophomore year of college I was comfortably in the modern Orthodox world,” he said.
“I think a big part of it was when I went into the wider world and I saw how different Jews identified and how they practiced how my mother and father raised me really was modern Orthodox in everything but name,” he said.
He loves the Jewish people and teaching Torah. He knew he wanted to either obtain a Jewish education degree or become a rabbi.
Rabbi was what grabbed him: “I felt I could reach more people at different stages in their life.”
Rabbi Andrews in London
Dinin and his wife Sarah have two children, Meira, 3, and Michael, 1. They moved here over the summer. Rabbi Dinin started as Lake Park’s spiritual leader on Aug. 1, filling Rabbi Nisan Andrews’ former spot.
Andrews served as spiritual leader of Lake Park Synagogue starting in 2014, but recently left to become associate rabbi at Finchley United Synagogue in London, England. The Orthodox congregation has more than 1,800 families.
Besides the Tuesday classes, Dinin wants to invite extraordinary speakers and create other events.
“My main, main goal is to create a culture of serious learning,” he said. “I want to grow the community, increase engagement.”
“There’s a million ways to get into a shul. Davening is one and for most people that doesn’t work for them.”
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The Lake Park Learning Series
- Led by Rabbi Joel Dinin.
- Free and open to non-members.
- Held most Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Lake Park Synagogue, 3207 N. Hackett Ave., Milwaukee. See LakeParkSynagogue.org/classes
- Tuesday, Sept. 4: “Rosh Hashanah in a Nutshell.”
- Tuesday, Oct. 9: “Can Jews Choose How to Die?” Starts a four-week series on medical ethics.