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Couple share rabbinic duties at Beth Shalom

David Weizman and Danielle Upbin lead a conservative synagogue in Clearwater.

MICHAEL HEAPE | Special to the Times

David Weizman and Danielle Upbin lead a conservative synagogue in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER — The Jewish concept of tikkun olam translates into "repair the world."

It's the driving force behind the rabbinic team leading Congregation Beth Shalom, a conservative synagogue in Clearwater.

David Weizman, senior rabbi, and his wife, Danielle Upbin, associate rabbi, are on a mission to make the world a better place.

Weizman, 50, and Upbin, 34, met at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1997, married in 2000, and have been busy ever since trying to spread the word on kindness.

They are Pinellas County's only rabbinic couple leading the same synagogue, which they have done since 2002.

The couple, parents of three children under the age of 6, are among a growing population of husband and wife rabbi teams. Women, first ordained in the conservative movement in the 1980s, are slowly making their way to pulpits.

"We became rabbis because we believe in the relevance of Judaism today," Upbin said. "We believe in the importance of mitzvot (good deeds) in the spiritual life of Jews."

Weizman said that kindness begins at home — home being the congregational family they lead.

"If you start at home taking care of your own," he said, "it gives you a sense of responsibility you then can extend to the larger community."

In a recent letter to congregants, the couple suggested ways to help others, including visiting the homebound, providing meals for the sick and transporting elderly people to services and social functions.

Weizman and Upbin said they envision moving from the home front to the larger community and the world. They've spearheaded drives at the synagogue to raise money for world hunger and to provide aid for Darfur.

The seeds of the couple's commitment to Judaism were passed down from their families, but the paths that brought them to the seminary differed greatly.

Upbin appeared destined to become a rabbi from an early age. Raised in Manhattan, she was educated in Orthodox Jewish day schools and graduated from Barnard College in New York with a bachelor's degree in political science.

She went directly to the seminary, where she obtained a master's degree in Hebrew Letters and Ordination, as did her husband.

Weizman, a Cleveland native, spent a dozen years after high school experiencing the world, with Judaism an ever present but lesser force in his life.

In 1977, he drove west with a friend to California, where he worked as a carpenter, fought forest fires and even cooked in a country inn.

In 1989, ready to settle down, he headed back to Cleveland and entered Cleveland State University, earning a bachelor's degree in English.

"I was ready to change my life," he said.

In 1994, he entered the seminary.

The couple's spiritual influence pervades the synagogue on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. They radiate a joy that is infectious when they pray, using melodies based on the music of Hasidism, an Orthodox sect of Judaism that dates back to 18th-century Poland.

"We believe the music should express the sentiment of prayer," said Upbin, "and for us the sentiment is mostly joyful."

The two divide the synagogue tasks.

He does most of the speaking and she most of the singing. He tends to pastoral care and she oversees programming.

"What we don't have time for is exercise and quiet time together," Upbin said.

Congregants appear to value their rabbis.

"The love and humor they share is visible to the congregation," said Loni Shelef, chairperson of the membership committee and board member.

"They are committed to family life and the synagogue is like an extended family to them."


Congregation Beth Shalom

Services: Friday evenings at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday mornings at 9 a.m.

Location: 1325 South Belcher Road, Clearwater

Phone: 531-1418

For more information: Visit

Religion, Page 4

Couple share rabbinic duties at Beth Shalom 12/26/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 27, 2008 6:25pm]
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