But while at the University of Chicago, where he studied math and philosophy, Yotam underwent what he called “a spiritual awakening.” He wanted to connect to that energy, but couldn’t figure out how.
“I was miserable trying to push myself into enlightenment,” he said. “In sheer desperation, I picked up my father’s translation of the weekday siddur,’’ or prayer book. “It really spoke to me. That brought my heart into my spiritual life.”
Yotam began keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath. “Eventually I had to confess to my father that I was Jewish,” he said, laughing at the memory. “He was very understanding — both quite happy and quite sensitive to my skittishness.”
By the time he graduated from college, Yotam said, he knew he wanted to become a rabbi. But he decided that he’d be more effective at the job if he got outside experience. He managed a customer service department for three years, spent a half year traveling the country, and then enrolled in a massage school, which equipped him with both marketable and pastoral skills.
Yotam took courses at the same Conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem that Shoshana would attend the following year, and he studied as well with his father.
After deciding to enroll at the Newton school, Yotam moved to the area and began practicing massage therapy. On his third day in town, he attended a service at Hebrew College, where he saw Shoshana. They had talked once at a retreat a few years before, but this time the stars were aligned. “We fell in love immediately,” Yotam said. They plan to wed in June.
Shoshana had known of Yotam’s dad as the rabbi who had inspired her own father. While Yotam didn’t know Lev by name, he did recall his father mentioning “this guy in Boston who was ordained from below” — meaning unofficially, by his congregation.
After she’s ordained (from above, that is), Shoshana hopes to work for a congregation in the Boston area until Yotam completes school. “An ecological component would pervade anything I do,” she said.
After Yotam graduates, the two intend to work together.
“We very much share the vision that Judaism as a practice can help people be better local and global citizens,” he said.
As for Lev, he’ll be 67 when he’s ordained — plenty young enough to launch his third rabbinate.
Steve Maas can be reached at email@example.com.