Poale Zedeck names new rabbi after long search
Congregation Poale Zedeck, an Orthodox congregation in Squirrel Hill, has voted to hire Daniel Yolkut as its new rabbi.
The vote, which came shortly before Purim last month, capped a long process in which about 40 applicants were whittled to 15 candidates interviewed on the phone, and eventually to three who were each invited to lead the congregation for a weekend.
The process also followed last year’s decision to tender the job to another candidate. That rabbi accepted the job, then backed out shortly thereafter.
Though the weather the weekend of Yolkut’s visit wasn’t inviting, both he and the congregation viewed the other as a match.
“When my wife and I came to spend a Shabbat in Pittsburgh, we were assured that two feet of snow is not part of the usual routine,” said Yolkut. “But it added a unique flavor.”
Yolkut, who grew up in Detroit, was ordained at Yeshiva University in 2002. He then spent about six years as the rabbi of Keneseth Beth Israel in Richmond, Va. While there, he also taught Jewish history at Richmond’s Weinstein JCC and Yeshiva high school.
Yolkut, 34, comes to Pittsburgh with his wife Anna and their three children.
Poale Zedeck’s rabbi selection committee, which included nine congregants, was searching for a candidate to fit several major requirements: dynamic speaking, pastoral people skills and scholarship applicable to all ages and knowledge levels, according to committee member Joel Pfeffer.
“[Yolkut] is a born teacher. His scholarship comes through loud and clear,” said Pfeffer. “This is a good match. He demonstrated that he’s good for our congregation; he related very well to the members.”
Through the congregation’s final vote, Pfeffer added, “we found there was overwhelming support for Rabbi Yolkut.”
Rabbi Ari Goldberg, who served as Poale Zedeck’s interim rabbi, was one of the three finalists for the job.
The congregation’s decision of Yolkut over Goldberg was a matter of experience, said Pfeffer. “Our preference was for someone who had three years full-time experience, minimum.”
Eight months ago, the congregation’s last search for a successor to Rabbi Emeritus Yisroel Miller ended when Rabbi Moshe Taub chose not to take the position.
Yolkut, a self-professed history buff, said he is excited to engage in Poale Zedeck’s rich “sense of history and tradition.”
“To come to a shul that’s multigenerational and has such a long history and a sense of self and identity… in our disposable society, that’s very special,” he said. “The idea of becoming part of that history and writing a new chapter together is very appealing.”
Pittsburgh’s vibrant Jewish community at large also proved to be a draw for Yolkut. He said the city has, “a beautiful balance of offering a lot of the infrastructure of a thriving Jewish community that you’d find in a much larger city, but still retaining a sense of community.
“That intimacy get’s lost in the impersonal metropolis,” he added. “Pittsburgh is a perfect balance.”
Yolkut said he expects to begin working at Poale Zedeck this summer.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.)