Matt Soffer

Matt is a Rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston and is the director of The Riverway Project, which offers ticketless High Holiday services. Here are a few fun facts to help you get to know him!

I came to Boston as a recently ordained rabbi in 2010.  But my first “taste” of CJP came the year prior, when I was in my 5th year of rabbinical school and my fellowship (the Bonnie and Daniel Tisch Rabbinical Fellowship) organized a trip to the greater Boston area, to learn about this extraordinary community.  Our goal was simple: to get a glimpse of what the Boston Jewish community is doing more effectively than virtually anywhere else.  Naturally, our trip involved a visit to CJP and a conversation with Barry Shrage about the future of the Jewish people.  I walked in totally unaware of what Boston was up to, and I left convinced that no Jewish community in the country is tackling the hardest problems that face the Jewish community with as much innovation, courage, and drive as CJP and their many partners.  I also left that visit inspired by how Temple Israel through its Riverway Project had figured out a new blueprint for engaging 20’s and 30’s in synagogue life in a cool way.  So when the opportunity came upon my ordination to direct the Riverway Project, and to serve as key partners to CJP, the decision was easy.

Over the course of my time here serving as a rabbi, I’ve felt blessed to connect to CJP in a variety ways:

•   Teaching a few LEADS sessions, I’ve met young adults from all walks of Jewish life, finding their way into community. 
•   At YJLC events I’ve connected with so many folks who share my mission (at Riverway) to connect 20’s and 30’s to each other and Judaism.
•   Through Israel360, CJP’s innovative and welcoming space to “talk Israel” (without food fights), our own Riverway participants have been able to deepen their connection to (and struggle with) the Jewish homeland.
•   During Yom HaShoah, CJP enabled us to partner with Boston3G, an organization devoted to engaging 3rd and 4th generation survivors of the Holocaust, for a Havdallah of Remembrance.
•   In partnership during our “Open Door High Holy Days” (a partnership between Riverway and CJP) we connect hundreds of people each year to community during “peak season” of Jewish awareness.  And each year I receive countless notes afterward thanking us for this experience—an entry point into Judaism that wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for CJP’s commitment to opening doors everywhere for everyone.

In terms of how I would like to leave my own footprint on CJP Young Adult engagement work, I’m committed to partnership.  Whenever we look at the data to see who showed up to our collaborative events, each and every time, we find that because of collaboration we are able to engage folks who never would have shown up to a non-collaborative event.  In our first year running the Open Door services during the High Holy Days, for instance, we found that the largest group who showed up had never been to either a Riverway event or a CJP event—what this tells us, and what I learned from this, is that when we work together, when we collaborate, we are able to do things together that we simply can’t do alone. 

In general, I see my role here in Boston as both a door opener and a bridge builder.  It’s no secret that for folks in their 20’s and 30’s, big buildings and institutions are off-putting.  This is a problem for synagogues and federations alike, and unless our institutions re-fashion themselves around local, personal, individual engagement work—lowering pulpits, opening doors, deepening relationships—they will render themselves irrelevant.  In Boston, we’re changing the way that the Jewish community connects to young adults, and it’s a blessing to be a part of this wonderful, innovative work.

What is your favorite (Jewish) childhood memory?
I’m a proud Jewish summer camp nerd.  My parents met at URJ Camp Harlam in the Pocono Mountains, where I also met my wife Nicole (though we didn’t start dating until years later).  I learned there the meaning of friendship and mentorship, and my love for learning stemmed from there as well.  It’s at camp that I learned that, as my colleague Rabbi Ronne Friedman (also a Camp Harlam product) teaches, the most sacred symbol in Judaism is actually the question mark. 

Even today, those who know me best know that I speak not only English and a good dose of Hebrew, but also I speak “camp.” 

Tell us three fun (Jewish) facts about yourself.
1. Humor has a seat at the table of my personal theology (and I have a rabbinic thesis to show for it).

2. I’m a die-hard Philly sports fan and am obsessed with fantasy baseball and football. (And here’s Jewish proof.)

3. I’ve seen Les Miserables live 52 times (I can explain….but won’t.).

If you could have dinner with one Jewish person (living or dead) who would it be and why?
These days, Jonathan Safran Foer.  I love his writing, his thinking, and his critique of- and appreciation for- Jewish tradition and culture.


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