Born in Brooklyn and raised in West Orange, Rabbi Chaim Strauchler comes to Teaneck’s Rinat Yisrael from Toronto’s Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, where he served as senior rabbi for 13 years. Before that, he was the rabbi at Beit Chaverim Synagogue in Westport, Connecticut.
Rinat’s new religious leader credits the legacy of his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Gershon Romanoff, with inspiring him to become a rabbi. Rabbi Romanoff studied at Yeshiva University under Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik in the 1930s, and died when Rabbi Strauchler was one year old.
His childhood rabbi, Alvin Marcus, was a second role model. Rabbi Marcus led Congregation Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange from September 1968 to early 1998, when he became rabbi emeritus. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, z”l, with whom Rabbi Strauchler studied in Israel, was a third role model. “He embodied the image of Jewish leadership, and that was a motivator for me to enter into Jewish leadership,” Rabbi Strauchler said.
Rabbi Strauchler has a distinguished resume. Not only was he the first YU graduate to be named a Rhodes scholar — he earned a diploma in theology and a master’s in religious studies from Oxford University — but he also holds a master’s in biblical studies from Bernard Revel Graduate School and is a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alumnus.
Rabbi Strauchler is an associate editor of Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, a vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, and an executive member of the Rabbinical Vaad HaKashruth of Canada.
His interest in literary endeavors began when he was young. As a student, he founded the literary journal, Mima’amakim. While in Toronto, according to his Canadian synagogue’s website, he published scholarly articles on the Bible and the Talmud as well as his own poetry.
Rabbi Strauchler has served congregations large and small. His Westport congregation has about 70 member families, and Shaarei Shomayim had 650. Whatever the size of his shul, he loves his job, he said. “I wake up every morning to do mitzvot, help people — at their happiest and their saddest times — to guide them through their lives with purpose.”
While he describes his Canadian congregation as “a wonderful community,” Rabbi Strauchler said that coming back to the United States is “something special.” While the differences between the two cultures is a matter of nuance, “there’s an energy to the American personality and a willingness to try new things and take on challenges.” And Rinat, he said “is wonderful in terms of the caliber of people, commitment to Torah, davening, and chesed. It’s very special.
“I loved Canada, but I’m an American deep down,” he continued. “My grandparents were survivors who made something in this country. Its ideals, what it stands for — they’re close to my heart.”
Rabbi Strauchler is excited about the high level of Torah taught at Rinat. “It will require me to perform, to raise the level of what I do,” he said. “Rabbi Adler created a beautiful culture.” (That’s Rinat Yisrael’s rabbi emeritus, Yosef Adler.) “I’m very appreciative of it. It provides an opportunity to provide a certain type of Jewish leadership in and beyond the shul.”
His goal, he said, is “to learn; to meet people and to learn.” He also is eager to share with other American Jewish communities what Rinat, and the Bergen County Jewish community, have achieved. “They don’t have to do this, but they should be aware of it,” he said. “It’s beautiful and worth investing in what Jewish life could be.”
Rabbi Strauchler and his wife, Avital Waltuch Strauchler, a physical therapist who grew up in Edison — have five children, Tehilla, Adir, Atara, Zvi, and Freda. The older three are in high school, the younger two in elementary school.
“I’m excited about my new position,” Rabbi Strauchler said. At the beginning of his career, “I hoped it would someday lead to a shul like this one. I think it’s a good fit.” He expects to work hard. He has found the congregation warm and welcoming, “super-good about embracing us,” he said.
We learn from everything, even covid, he continued. “We’re not living in a utopian world; we’ve still got a ways to go.” One basic lesson learned from the pandemic is that “we’re not the boss here. There’s a certain humility reinjected into Torah study.” In addition, being isolated has reminded people of the value community has to offer. “Saying hello and getting a greeting back. Catching up with people at kiddush. We missed that. There’s value to those types of relationships.”
He also came to recognize and appreciate other ways to teach, “like sending out a daily email when you couldn’t give a sermon in shul. People appreciated that. There are new conduits to teach Torah.” He will try to hold on to some of those, he said.
In addition to being an avid reader, Rabbi Strauchler said he knows that exercise is very important. “Our minds and bodies are connected,” he said. “It’s important to stay active.”