Rabbi Harvey ticks many boxes in race to be Chief Rabbi

Doreen Wachmann meets a dynamic rabbi with a host of strings to his bow... and who many people think could well land the top job in Anglo-Jewry

RABBI Dr Harvey Belovski is reckoned to be a frontrunner in the race to be British Chief Rabbi.

I interviewed him to find out what the minister of Golders Green Synagogue - a United Synagogue now geographically surrounded by massive non-US charedi growth - has that has put him in the running for this top Anglo-Jewish job.

He ticks many boxes and as last year's BBC documentary On the Road showed is eminently competent in multiple fields.

He is married to Vicki Belovski, the British editor of the charedi newspaper Hamodia.

And with more than seven years of full-time yeshiva learning - mainly in Gateshead - under his belt, he would present an acceptable face to the growing charedi world who failed to accord sufficient respect to our present incumbent because of his lack of background in this area.

Yet Rabbi Belovski, who comes from a traditional Edgware family, is decidedly modern Orthodox in approach with an Oxford University MA and a doctorate at London University's Birkbeck College.

The mission statement of Rimon Jewish Primary School, where he is principal, talks of the "diversity of Jewish tradition".

And just to emphasise Rabbi Belovski's taste for diversity he recently spent three days cycling in Cornwall in the Rabbi Relay Ride, most of whose participants were Progressive rabbis.

He said: "I cycled 160 miles in two-and-a-half days from Lands End to Bideford. It was exhausting but fun."

With diversity the spice of life, he lists his hobbies as cycling, hill walking, music of Breslover chassidim, Daf Yomi and 19th-century British and Russian fiction, particularly the works of Dostoevsky. Rabbi Belovski is also very likely to get on with his rabbinical colleagues as he has acted in a mentoring role to many of them in his current positions as rabbinic mentor to campus rabbis and to Phone and Learn.

He also lectures to the Montefiore College semicha course, the Women's Student Beth Hamedrash, the P'eir Rabbinic Induction Programme, the London School of Jewish Studies, the Torah Way and the Jewish Learning Exchange.

Where he gets the time with a family of seven children remains an absolute mystery. He admits he's very busy and likes to think he's organised.

So what made this Oxford maths graduate decide to become a rabbi in the first place?

His first Jewish educational input came from Mill Hill Synagogue and its cheder, as well as from private tutors.

Influenced by the latter, he decided to go to yeshiva after university, where he met Vicki who was studying politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford.

The couple settled initially in Gateshead, where Vicki taught in schools and for SEED.

Rabbi Belovski said: "I initially intended to learn for a couple of years just to become a competent Jewish adult.

"After a while it became apparent that I enjoyed it and I was quite good at it.

"I wanted to learn for longer and become a scholar.

"The rabbinate became my natural career path. I have a certain skill in teaching and counselling people, creating programmes, hospitality and a range of things.

"My personality was suited to the rabbinate. When an opportunity arose in 1997 at Loughton and Chigwell Federation Synagogue, I took it."

Three years later he moved on to Ilford Federation Synagogue and then another three years later to Golders Green Synagogue where he has succeeded in revitalising the United Synagogue, which is surrounded by a sea of charedi neighbours.

He said: "There are still a lot of non-charedi people in the area, including many young families.

"We had 150 invitees to children from families under 12 to a recent programme."

To provide for this younger generation, Rabbi Belovski and his synagogue management team are establishing Rimon Jewish Primary School - a government free school which will open in September on the synagogue site, on which a brand-new purpose-built edifice is to be constructed.

The school's mission statement, that talks of "the unprecedented evolution of technology" which has led to "destabilisation and radicalisation" that threaten "cherished traditions and beliefs", is as impressive as is Rabbi Belovski's CV.

But whether he actually gets the top job by ticking all the right boxes remains to be seen.

© 2012 Jewish Telegraph