Ra’anana’s Rabbi Beller dies..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Toward the end of Yom Kippur, before the Neila prayer, two young men entered through the back door of the Kehillat Shivtei Yisrael synagogue in Ra’anana, dressed in jeans and white T-shirts. Rabbi Daniel Beller spotted them, sensed their discomfort but desire to pray, gleefully strode across the shul, cajoled them into sitting in his seat, and guided them through the prayer.
It was an act of kindness typical of Rabbi Beller. He was everyone’s rabbi.
The beloved British-born spiritual leader of the Anglo-Israeli Shivtei Yisrael congregation, who died after a battle with cancer on Passover eve at the age of 53, was an exceptional and exemplary human being.
In an outpouring of support for his wife, Arny, and their six children, as well as his father, brother and sister, some 5,000 people attended his funeral on Friday morning at the Kfar Nachman Cemetery, where he was eulogized by Ra’anana Mayor Ze’ev Bielski, Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein and members of his family and congregation.
What drew such an enormous number of mourners at a moment’s notice was not his wisdom and wit or phenomenal talent for teaching and acting, which he had in abundance, but because all felt in one way or another personally connected to him.
Rabbi Beller served more than 300 families for 19 years at the helm of Kehillat Shivtei Yisrael. His exuberant energy, contagious enthusiasm, sharp humor, sublime knowledge and genuine caring for his congregants shone across his shul. In addition to his daily rabbinical duties, he conducted a popular Shabbat study program for both children and adults, promoting the idea that it is never too early or too late to become more knowledgeable about Judaism.
Through the Ra’anana Municipality and the Bakehilla organization he founded, he endeared himself to children of all ages at pre-schools and schools, many of them secular.
In recent years, his classes on Jewish thought as part of the high school matriculation (bagrut) curriculum made him a popular teacher throughout the community.
Over the years, most of Ra’anana’s youth had contact with Rabbi Beller by participating in his seminars, classes and values-focused bar and bat mitzva courses or through turning to him privately for counsel. He drew them in with his warmth, beguiled them with humor and won them over with his respectful understanding of their mindset.
Teens with trendy haircuts would stop him in the street with a warm, “Shalom, Harav Beller!” and get a fatherly hug or a slap on the back.
Rabbi Beller was an approachable religious figure and a scholarly teacher. People of all ages enjoyed his comic and dramatic gifts. He could turn himself into a thespian reciting a Shakespearean soliloquy or doing a perfect impersonation of the queen, Harry Potter or Nelson Mandela.
While Orthodox himself, he was able to project an unorthodox appreciation for all people over the spectrum of religious observance and nonobservance. It was this inclusive approach that Rabbi Beller subscribed to that Israel’s religious establishment should seek to emulate, rather than continue with its rigid policies that turn away the nonobservant in droves.
Those he taught in various frameworks and institutions over the years could not help but be impressed by Rabbi Beller’s exceptional talent for taking complex texts and concepts and clarifying them in a way that made them accessible to all. Families who would otherwise never consider involving a religious figure in their lives felt comfortable celebrating a bar mitzva in his synagogue or asking him to officiate at their wedding. His secret? He never sold religion but rather radiated his firm belief that Jewish tradition was a gift that everyone deserved.
Rabbi Beller believed that Jewish tradition is a birthright for all ages and all backgrounds. His teaching style was rooted in seven years of Torah study at Yeshiva Har Etzion, a history degree from the University of Manchester, a superb memory and a love of scholarship. His end goal was to do kindness for people, and he was there for everyone, both in his congregation in Ra’anana and in other communities, in time of need.
As part of his personal touch, Rabbi Beller made a practice of standing at the exit to his synagogue after prayers, personally wishing every congregant Shabbat Shalom or Hag Sameah and chatting with them briefly. It is in that spirit that we bid farewell to Rabbi Beller. May his memory be for a blessing, and may his family, friends and congregants be comforted by the legacy of love and learning that he leaves.