Faith and Food

Justin GoldsteinRabbi Justin Goldstein 99F can pinpoint the moment when religion actually started to mean something to him.

The Literature of Religious Awakening, a course with Professor of Humanities Robert Meagher and Professor of Comparative Religion Alan Hodder, “changed my life forever” he says. Soon after, he met the woman who would become his wife, Danielle Gutshall (now Goldstein) 98F, and her religious practice added a new dimension to his already strong interest in Jewish culture and tradition. A medical leave during his Div II gave the previously avowed atheist the impetus to further explore the idea of faith.

Goldstein now sees his rabbinical practice as a way to go beyond the traditional congregation to reach people in all walks of life. In doing so, he involves himself in such crucial 21st-century discussions as the changing face of religion and worldwide needs such as access to healthy food.

“The metaphor of God has evolved as people have evolved. God is an idea. It’s not a noun, it’s a concept,” he says. “I would like to break outside of the walls of the synagogue to explore the idea of community and bring Judaic wisdom to the public. We have a rich, deep tradition that has something to offer the world.”

After graduating from the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles in 2011, Goldstein became the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine.

“Those two years in the pulpit in Maine were by far the most transformative two years of my life,” he says, “but I knew I couldn’t stay there. I’m ready to branch out, and explore new projects and innovative ideas.”

That includes approaching the issue of modern food politics, from worker and animal rights to pesticides and GMO crops, through the lens of kosher dietary law and other Judaic traditions.

“I first started becoming aware of issues of sustainability while at Hampshire. We had the farm CSA. I could walk over and bring vegetables home,” he says. “I had access to something that most people in America had lost access to.”

Through work with Hazon, a Jewish environmental group that aims to create healthier and more-sustainable communities, Goldstein became even more involved with the food movement.

“On a deeper level, our tradition asks, ‘What is our responsibility to each other?’” he says. “Our connection to these things is undeniable. Utilizing Jewish tradition on how to relate to the food we grow and eat can provide an access point for people of Jewish culture.”

Goldstein says that if someone had told him as a Hampshire student that he’d have become a rabbi, he’d have dismissed it entirely. Looking back, he says, he realizes that the seeds were already there.

“There’s a Yiddish saying that people plan and God laughs. That’s kind of like the motto of my life journey,” says Goldstein. “With every plan I’ve ever made, nothing has happened the way I thought it would. I’ve given up being frustrated by that, and embrace it now as a special part of being human.”

“I first started becoming aware of issues of sustainability while at Hampshire. We had the farm CSA. I could walk over and bring vegetables home,” he says. “I had access to something that most people in America had lost access to.”