By Ellen Braunstein
Fourth in a series of profiles of rabbis new in the Washington region.
When Noah Diamondstein’s grandfather died of cancer, the 17 year old was despondent and lost all belief in God.
Now, the new assistant rabbi at Temple Sinai in the District, Diamondstein recalls that a therapist advised him to find a positive and productive routine in his life. So, he began attending Sunday morning minyan services, unsure of its purpose at first.
“I was still convinced that I didn’t believe in God, but minyan was a safe place for me. The people really cared about me. And, there was a guaranteed bagel in it for me afterward.”
The Sunday morning minyan at Temple Beth El in Allentown, Pa., became a habit and spilled over into Shabbat services. “All of a sudden I realized that, out of nowhere, I was, like — holy crap — I’m praying. And, basically, that leads to some serious conversations about Judaism.”
As an experiment, he wore a kippah throughout his senior year at a large public high school. Covering his head was a step, he said, toward becoming publicly Jewish all the time and, ultimately, a Jewish public figure.
He describes himself as a “weird mish mash of liberal and Conservative Judaism.” He is the son and grandson of Jewish federation CEOs. He participated in USY, BBYO and attended URJ Camp Harlam.
Influenced by the Reform cantor at his Conservative synagogue, Diamondstein took his advice to become a rabbi over a cantor. Diamondstein taught himself 10 instruments, including voice, but Cantor Kevin Wartell “didn’t miss a beat. He told me, ‘You’re going to be a rabbi.’”
So, Diamondstein pursued a degree in religious studies at University of Pittsburgh. He studied for the rabbinate in Prague and Jerusalem, and received his ordination at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.
Temple Sinai is this 27 year old’s first pulpit.
Diamondstein has interned at the Jewish Center for Justice in Los Angeles. His passion for activism dovetails with the robust social justice agenda at Sinai. “It’s an activist congregation, full of incredibly smart people who are at the front lines of making the Jewish community’s voice heard on the important issues of our time.”
Only weeks on the job, Diamondstein believes he will develop a wide portfolio that includes justice initiatives, teaching, prayer life and pastoral care.
He is excited to participate in Multiracial Sinai. “It’s a group that was designed to help members take a good, long look at the way race plays out in our communities and try to make ourselves have more stamina in terms of talking about issues of race.”
Despite the necessity to social distance for now, Diamondstein hopes to bring diversity to prayer life for Temple Sinai’s 1,200 families. “Not that there isn’t already an incredible prayer life here, but it seems heavily influenced by classical Reform Judaism,” he said.
“Between my traditional proclivities and my musical background, I have well-honed skills as a prayer leader and a crafter of worship experiences. I want to help us to sing more and better and together in partner with the cantors in doing that work.”