Once upon a time, three sons were born to Helen and Eli Goldberg in the land of Teaneck. They were named Zev, Noah, and Daniel.
Helen and Eli sent the boys for a fine Jewish education at Yavneh Academy and the Torah Academy of Bergen County. They waved goodbye to each one as he went off to Israel for two years of study after high school. They beamed with pride as each son went on to earn rabbinic ordination at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
And on March 27, the unusual story of the Goldberg brothers will continue, as they jointly receive the Emerging Leadership Award at the RIETS gala dinner at New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Zev, 34, is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Fort Lee; Noah, 32, is a certified public accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and lives in Riverdale, N.Y.; and Daniel, 28, is the assistant rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood.
What magic trick did Helen and Eli do, we asked the trio, to nurture three future rabbis who are not at all identical in either looks or personality? Did they serve rabbi Kool-Aid at the Shabbat table?
Nothing of the sort, the Goldberg men assured us. “Our home was a positive, warm environment, and we were encouraged to follow our hearts to do whatever we wanted to do,” Rabbi Zev says. “My mom is not sure how she ended up with three rabbis; she jokes that it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.”
“She says that she feels like she won the lottery,” Rabbi Daniel interjects.
“Yes,” Rabbi Zev agrees. “Our parents never winced for a moment when each of us shared our professional aspirations. Our father always appreciated Torah learning and our mother was extraordinarily encouraging of our successes.”
Rabbi Noah adds, “Our father was president of the Young Israel of Teaneck, so community leadership was always on our radar. And studying Torah was something that had a warm, enthusiastic place in our hearts and home.”
Helen Goldberg says she cannot pinpoint a particular secret of success. “We look at our sons as a very special bracha that Hashem just bestowed upon us,” she said. “I did nothing more or less special than any other mother in our community. I am fortunate that a deep love of Torah in our home comes through Eli and Bubby, Eli’s mom. Bubby is a continual source of inspiration. But raising the boys was definitely a community project with their schools and rebbeim,” the rabbis who taught them. “They really made a difference.”
Nevertheless, none of the Goldberg boys harbored rabbinic aspirations from an early age. It happened sort of organically.
“Initially I was planning to pursue a career in finance,” Rabbi Zev says. As an undergraduate economics major, he joined the first cohort of a program sponsored by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future, which involved spending weekends teaching Judaic studies classes in Charleston, South Carolina. Over the course of two and a half years, he traveled to Charleston 20 times. He became close with local Jewish community members, fell in love with Jewish communal service, and decided to go for smicha — rabbinic ordination.
“My education at RIETS was transformative,” he says. “It gave me a passion for learning and the practical tools to be an effective Jewish leader. Those were some of the most fruitful years of my life.”
Rabbi Zev works closely with RIETS’ Dean Rabbi Menachem Penner in coordinating community programming. “We are very excited to honor the Goldberg brothers — Zev, Noah and Daniel — as they are true examples of emerging communal leaders who have had significant impact on their local communities,” Rabbi Penner said.
In addition to serving the Fort Lee congregation, Rabbi Zev teaches in the Undergraduate Torah Studies program at Yeshiva College — where one of his students is the son of a Charleston family with whom he often stayed on his trips south in college — and teaches a professional development class at RIETS as well as Judaic studies at Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth. He is married to Michal Safier, a clinical psychologist who also was raised in Teaneck.
Daniel Goldberg met his wife, Dina Muskin, when his brother Zev was doing a four-year stint as assistant rabbi to Rabbi Elazar Muskin — Dina’s father — at the Young Israel of Century City in California.
Rabbi Daniel says his career path was influenced by the impact of seeing both his older brothers go through rabbinic training at RIETS, and by his desire to make a difference in the community through teaching Torah.
He also has a strong academic bent; he earned a master’s degree in Bible, won a prestigious Wexner Graduate Fellowship in 2014, and now is finishing a Ph.D. in medieval biblical interpretation at YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies.
Every Thursday or Friday, Rabbis Zev and Daniel pick up the phone and bounce ideas off each other to complete their Shabbat sermons-in-progress.
“If people in Englewood would speak with people in Fort Lee about what the rabbi said in his sermon, they would find some overlap pretty often,” Rabbi Daniel says. “It’s not as if our talks are carbon copies, but we have a synergy that is very fruitful.”
Rabbi Noah says that a mutual love of Torah study “is like an unspoken bond between the three of us, an unspoken language.”
“It’s inspirational to me that Noah is very disciplined and wakes up early to learn every day despite his busy workload as accountant, whereas for me preparing Torah classes and lessons is the bread and butter of my day,” Rabbi Daniel says.
Noah Goldberg and his wife, Leah (nee Frenkiel), are active members of the Young Israel of Riverdale. “I was turned on to the beauty of learning Torah and teaching Torah from the institutions I was raised in,” he says. “I have always been positively influenced by my brothers as well. In college, I felt myself going in the direction of becoming a rabbi, not knowing if it would ultimately be my profession.”
During his studies at RIETS, he recalls, “I valued the harmony between what I was learning and the behavior that I saw among my teachers.” He observed that they conducted themselves with thoughtfulness and intent, and he strived to follow their example. While he did not choose to become a professional rabbi, he says, those years in seminary were all about “learning how to live.”
Ask the brothers to describe one another in a few succinct adjectives, and words like “compassionate,” “thoughtful,” “trustworthy,” “passionate,” and “smart” swirl around a bath of mutual brotherly admiration.
“Our parents very much encouraged us to celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and we learned to treasure everyone’s unique strengths,” Rabbi Daniel says.
Helen Goldberg notes that she is the only child of her late parents, Sarah (née Francus) and Bill Faber, both Holocaust survivors.
“My parents lost over 50 relatives in the war,” she says. “My mother was suffering from typhoid fever when she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945. Since I was not raised Orthodox, but became Orthodox when I married Eli, for my parents to be forebears of three rabbis would be beyond their wildest dreams.
“This event honoring their three grandsons would rewrite their history! And for that I am profoundly thankful.”