The East Sider

Rabbi Barry Dolinger Advocates for Diversity and Community Collaboration

"We truly believe this city can become a model of innovative collaboration between all different communities: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, everyone."

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Young Rabbi Barry Dolinger’s schedule is so jam-packed that it’s tough to imagine how he juggles heading up Congregation Beth Sholom, managing his own law practice downtown, leading meditation and wellness events as one of three co-founders at Thrive spiritual retreat, certifying various local restaurants as kosher and many other activities – not to mention the typical demands of married life.

As he was close to graduating rabbinical school and Fordham law school in 2011, Dolinger and wife Naomi started scoping out congregations, and on Super Bowl weekend they visited Providence. They interviewed with Temple Beth Sholom and were immediately impressed.

“We loved the people,” says Dolinger. “What was different about it and what we noticed right away was that we were interacting with extremely genuine people who were not just welcoming and fun, but also independent-minded, idealistic and engaged. My five years here have only reinforced my view that this is part of what Providence is all about.”

The couple lives on East Avenue, near the Pawtucket line. Naomi is a speech pathologist in Burrillville and she helps Barry to keep a disciplined schedule. Temple Beth Shalom is Orthodox, and Dolinger runs services and teaches classes just about every day starting at 6:30am. Two afternoons a week are spent on his legal work, which is voluntary; Dolinger chooses cases that are value- or issue-oriented, such as anti-discrimination.

Dolinger works to promote diversity and collaboration in communities that have often traditionally been much more conservative-minded. With his help, the synagogue has become more inclusive and welcomed 25 new families in the past 18 months from a variety of political perspectives, noting that a deep tenet of Judaism is to promote genuine discourse and that “both sides can be holy” even if only one becomes the adopted practice for a particular time and place. He openly engages with difficult issues, and testified in legislature in favor of legalizing same sex marriage (many LGBT people have recently joined the synagogue), as well as championing women’s religious leadership within the bounds of orthodox law. He also works to bridge different Jewish denominations.

“A lot of people on the East Side have stereotypes about the synagogues, thinking they’ll never grow or become more connected. I feel that the political leadership and non-profits joining together are making a statement through volunteerism and innovation that we truly believe this city can become a model of innovative collaboration between all different communities: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, everyone – that we are not territorial but consciously focusing on causes. We’re playing quite well in the sandbox together, and as a result, our sandcastle is bigger.”

If you had one wish to enhance life on the East Side, what would it be?

“I love it here, but I would love to see us become less car-centric since I bike a lot. Providence as a whole could also think about ways to foster more interaction between diverse populations, even on the East Side. Neighborhood organizations are popping up left and right, but more of that is good.”