From California to Belsize Park for new rabbi

Rabbi Gabriel Botnick

Rabbi Gabriel Botnick - Credit: Belsize Square Synagogue

The new rabbi at Belsize Square Synagogue has said he takes inspiration from its founders who fled Nazi oppression.

Rabbi Gabriel Botnick has moved to London from Venice Beach, California, where he served at the Mishkon Synagogue.

The 40-year-old joined the congregation in early April and will succeed Rabbi Stuart Altshuler at the end of June, becoming only its fifth rabbi.

Belsize Square is an independent synagogue, founded by refugees fleeing Nazi oppression in Germany in 1939. 

“One of my goals is to enter the perspective of the original Jewish community and reflect on what it would be like today," said Rabbi Botnick.

"It's going to be a major undertaking for me, but it will be a wonderful experience.”

He said he doesn't "just want to be a caretaker for a museum", adding: "I want to enter that perspective so I can help it flourish.” 

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He hopes to learn from the synagogue's previous leaders while bringing in his own ideas. 

“I ask myself: how much can I learn from them and retain what they did while infusing my own personality and perspective?” he said.

Rabbi Botnick was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, inspired by a desire to connect with others, and this will be his third time leading a congregation.

He has moved to London with his wife Rabbi Rose Prevezer, who grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb, and daughter Lev.

He said the move made sense for him and his family, who already had a connection to the area.

He told Ham&High: “For the last decade, I've spent almost a month every year in London visiting my in-laws so I definitely had a familiarity here.

“If I wanted to pick myself up, and settle somewhere that's not in the States, it really doesn't get much better than this. I’ve had such a warm reception from the community here. They welcome everybody, and it’s so nice to know that you have a home here."

Chairman Jackie Alexander said the community is “delighted” to welcome Rabbi Botnick who “made so many friends during his visit to Belsize Square in February last year”.

She paid tribute to the support during the search from Rabbi Altshuler, along with Emeritus Rabbi Rodney Mariner and Chazan Paul Heller.