Rabbi Dr. Daniel Smokler

Upper West Side, NYC

Why are you a Jewish educator?

I grew up in a community in the midwest led by a charismatic spiritual figure. He moved to Israel when I was 17. The younger kids in the community asked me if I would teach them in his absence. I never looked back.

When have you sojourned?

When I was 14 I lived for a year off the energy grid in a lodgepole pine tipi in my backyard in Michigan. (Yes, I was a handful for my folks). I spent a lot of time alone, outside, under the stars. Eventually I came back inside a different person.

What is your own community like?

I have a group of people I started studying with in the first week of the 2020 lockdown. It started as friends and family. Then old friends from college heard about it, mentors from college, grandparents, friends of friends of friends. The age range is 10-84. Many of them I had never met before in real life. We’ve continued together as a group every Tuesday night and get together for a weekend once a year.

What does becoming a Jew mean to you?

I have been becoming a Jew my whole life. I was born into a Jewish family, but I have been working to make it my own for years now. I do this by studying, by delving deep into a particular practice, learning from older folks who have been down this road before. It’s not something you ever finalize. I have seasons of life where it feels obvious and present. And, I have seasons of fog and alienation. But more often than not I am blessed with moments of great clarity, of profound insight, or jolts of inspiration where I am grateful to walk this path.

Three people you’d like to invite to Shabbat lunch, and what you’d like to talk about together.

I know I am supposed to say a bunch of famous people from history, but the truth is, I have three best friends from when I was a kid and we see each other so rarely now. I would give anything to have them come from London and LA and NYC to meet up for a Shabbat lunch (without our kids…).