NEW RABBI FOR BETH HILLEL…

Rabbi Nate Crane

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

When Rabbi Nate Crane was seven years old, he sat timidly in the large sanctuary of a synagogue in his hometown of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The rabbi took a seat next to him and asked him his Hebrew name. Tzvi, he replied.

“Oh, that’s a beautiful name.” The rabbi flipped through the pages of the Chumash until he landed on a reference to Nate’s name. “Do you know what that says there, Tzvi? That’s your Hebrew name. You’re a part of the Torah.”

That moment changed his life and took him on a rich Jewish odyssey that has brought him most recently to Congregation Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah in Wilmette. “At that age, I knew that I wanted to go on to bring positivity and a love of Judaism and comfort to other Jewish people.”

As the new rabbi, the 34-year-old has rejoined the Chicago Jewish community after a stint as associate rabbi of Congregation Or Tzion in Scottsdale, Ariz. and prior as rabbi and educator at Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Deerfield.

He is excited for his assignment at the 480-family Conservative synagogue and his return to Chicago, which has always felt like home. “I think what this synagogue community has is an incredible partnership of dedicated and wise and caring lay leadership who have built such a tremendous welcoming and accepting community. And that is something that we truly want to continue, in addition to joining this outstanding professional team and our entire staff.”

He is also grateful to his predecessors Rabbi Emeritus Allen Kensky and Rabbi Annie Tucker. “They have these illustrious legacies after nurturing a community of learning and inclusion and love of the Jewish people.”

Crane said the synagogue’s immediate task is to expand programming for families with young children. “We want to create a connection with those families to our entire community.” That and building ties to empty nesters and longtime community members furthers, fosters and enriches the synagogue community, he said.

Crane began his career at Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University.

His early years as a professional drummer contributed to his skills in leading Jewish song sessions and prayer services. “My music performing influenced me in being able to figure out how best to connect with people.”

Crane is credited as the author of a teshuva, a Jewish legal ruling, on ritual adoption completed in 2018. It was approved by a unanimous vote of the 25-member committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which is the Conservative movement’s central authority on Jewish law and practices. The ruling enabled people who have been adopted to be seen as equal in status and obligations as biological children.

The reason for this area of research goes back to his early years. “I was adopted at a much later age by my stepfather and when it came time for my wife and I to get married, I couldn’t imagine having my Hebrew name on our ketubah and not including my stepfather’s Hebrew name.

“It did take a lot of time to make sure that we addressed every potential Jewish legal issue when it came to adoption, everything from obligations to parents and parent’s obligations to their children. It started at about a page and a half and ended up at 35 pages.”

Crane also has experience with Jews with special needs, an interest that originated with having such a sister. Crane is the founder of a nonprofit in Scottsdale, which was inspired by the Hugs program started by Cantor Steve Stoehr of Congregation Beth Shalom. Started in 2018, the program, which merged with Gesher Disability Resources, was called Hagigah: Dedicated to Providing Accessible, Engaging and Fun Jewish Holiday Celebrations to Families with Special Needs.

“In Phoenix, we wanted to enrich the celebrations for families with special needs. I remember growing up and each time that we would consider going to a Jewish holiday celebration within the community, we would ask the question, will there be food she can eat, will their be a sensory overload due to noise, will people judge the way that my youngest sister wanted to celebrate through clapping and loud noises and expressing herself? So, when I founded my nonprofit, the goal was that families with special needs wouldn’t have to ask those questions. That everyone would be accepted and appreciated for who they were.”

Crane is the recipient of numerous distinctions in his career: the New CAJE Young Professional Fellowship, the PJ Library Grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Start Me Up! Fellowship and a grant from Phoenix’s Valley Beit Midrash. He participated in the inaugural cohort of the AIPAC-Lefell Fellowship and served as a rabbinic advisor to the Valley of The Sun JCC’s Early Childhood Center.

Sandy Goldberg, president of Beth Hillel Bnai Emunah, said Crane “brings boundless energy, the creativity of new initiatives, a depth of Jewish knowledge and an easy, outgoing personality. These make him the perfect person to lead our congregation in the future.”

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