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Virginia Beach Temple Welcomes New Rabbi From South America Following Long Immigration Wait

Some may call it kismet.

Rabbi Ari Oliszewski knew the career path he was destined to follow at the age of 13. Several decades later, he left South America to become the new rabbi at Temple Emanuel, a conservative synagogue in Virginia Beach.

When he was young, Oliszewski admired a rabbi for his teaching, sermons and relationship with the community. Two weeks after Oliszewski’s bar mitzvah, that rabbi left to work in the U.S.

“He was with people when they were ill or happy,” he said. “I decided that I’d like to be like him.”

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In 2007, Oliszewski traveled from his native homeland of Buenos Aires, Argentina, for rabbinical studies in Israel. Two years later, he received his ordination in Jerusalem and became a senior rabbi in a small community in northern Brazil.

Three years after that, he moved to another synagogue in the southern part of the country where he remained for 11 years. He watched that temple grow from 400 people attending the last day of Yom Kippur services to 1,200 attendees hearing the traditional blowing of the shofar before COVID hit.

During the pandemic, Oliszewski was instrumental in creating a stage for drive-up services.

“I felt like I was Bon Jovi,” he said. “It was amazing with the lights, the music and 200 cars with 1,000 people there.”

Feeling as if he’d reached a pinnacle of his career in South America, Oliszewski began to search for a new opportunity during the pandemic. Like the rabbi he had looked up to, he turned his dream of coming to the U.S. into a reality.

Larry Weinstein, president of Temple Emanuel and co-chair of the search committee, said they were seeking a new rabbi after Rabbi Marc Krauss had to leave his eight-year post in July 2021 due to personal reasons.

Weinstein said Oliszewski’s spirit really shined through, even through initial virtual meetings.

“Rabbi Ari is a wonderful blend of traditional practice and a glorious spirit and enthusiasm plus an informality that is really just perfect for Temple Emanuel,” he said.

Oliszewski held Shabbat services, taught the religious school and met multiple times with the board — all via Zoom.

“We fell in love with each other. We started to think about the future, the past and what we can do together,” Oliszewski said of the virtual meetings.

Enamored by the small synagogue that has about 130 members, Oliszewski said he signed a three-year contract. And then he waited — and waited — for his visa to be approved. A normal eight-month process dragged on, he said.

In the meantime, lay leaders in the congregation stepped in to fill the void, holding services on Friday nights, Saturday mornings and on holidays.

“It was an extremely frustrating wait,” Weinstein said. “There was nothing we could do during that time.”

Oliszewski said he and his family were ready to travel at any moment. Once the Brazilian consulate reopened, a meeting followed by the final visa stamp on their passports a year and half after starting the process finally enabled Oliszewski, his wife, Pati, and their two children, Lia, 5, and Ben, 3, to move to Virginia Beach in January.

Settling in and watching as his children learn English and adjust to a new culture, Oliszewski said his main goal is to go throughout the community to share Jewish life.

“I take the words of the Torah, its message and apply it to today,” he said. “We are living in an era of disconnection for the soul, for spirituality.”

Happy to be here, Oliszewski said he already feels like he’s part of the community and feels he can do a lot for it.

Source : The Virgion Pilot