Arrival stories: Rabbi David Arias Weil, 31, Chile to Jerusalem

In Chile, he left behind his parents, four siblings, a beloved grandmother, other close relatives and many friends.

(LEFT TO right) Rabba Diana Villa, Rabbi David Arias, Rabbi Yosef Kleiner and Rabbi Ehud Bandel at Arias’ rabbinic graduation/ordination ceremony. (photo credit: EYAL WEISS)
(LEFT TO right) Rabba Diana Villa, Rabbi David Arias, Rabbi Yosef Kleiner and Rabbi Ehud Bandel at Arias’ rabbinic graduation/ordination ceremony.
(photo credit: EYAL WEISS)
Rabbi David Arias Weil was recently appointed rabbi of the Moriah Masorti congregation in Ahuza, Haifa, the oldest Conservative congregation in Israel, dating back to 1954. This solid stone structure on the Carmel was greatly damaged by the fires that afflicted Haifa in 2016, then rebuilt. Congregants describe their newly appointed leader as “a welcoming face” and a “young and industrious rabbi.”
Arias grew up in Santiago, Chile, in the Conservative movement, attended a Zionist day school and at age five was already a member of the Noam South America youth movement. His parents were born in Chile, his mother of German-Jewish origin, his father with Italian Sephardic roots.
Nowadays only 18,000 Jews call Chile home – a tiny percentage of its 18 million residents. Arias explains that, “In general, Chilean Jews lead a very tranquil life, with occasional disruptions from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activities. There is also a sizeable Palestinian community, the largest outside the Middle East.”
His varied roles in the community before making aliyah included those of “youth leader and logistical coordinator in Santiago and other Latin American countries, Hebrew teacher, and tutor for bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah students.” Arias’s activism led him to attend the Jewish Agency’s yearlong international youth leadership program in Jerusalem (HaMachon l’Madrichei Hul) at age 18. This program included a three-month stay on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava, organized by Marom, the young adults organization of the Conservative movement.
While working as youth leader on the kibbutz, he met his future wife, Daiana, who was volunteering there. Her family had arrived in Israel from Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1997 and settled in Haifa’s bayside suburbs. The couple maintained a long-distance romance for five years until their marriage in October 2015.
“We stayed in touch through phone calls and Skype, lots of love and patience, and even used snail mail occasionally,” he relates. Meanwhile Daiana joined a Nahal gar’in (a core group of people that moves together as a unit), did the army, then studied to become an accountant.
From a young age, Arias’s musical ability served him well in reading from the Torah and singing the liturgy melodiously. He learned piano and guitar and completed an undergraduate degree in music in 2013.
“Music is a universal language,” he comments. “It helps me wherever I go to create and develop relationships with people. Music gathers families and communities, and has a significant role in Jewish life.”
After Arias returned to Israel in 2014, he did a year’s army service which involved driving a heavy truck of over 12 tons.
“I greatly enjoyed my army service,” he says. “I got to know Israeli society much better, and still do reserve duty.”
In Chile, he left behind his parents, four siblings, a beloved grandmother, other close relatives and many friends.
His next objective was a graduate degree in Jewish studies at the Schechter Institute of Jerusalem, which he completed in 2016. During this period, Arias worked as coordinator for the Marom youth movement. In this capacity, he was responsible for logistical and educational planning of summer and yearlong programs for youth. He found social media a handy tool that assisted in his work.
Arias decided to continue studying at Schechter’s rabbinical seminary to train as a Masorti or Conservative congregational rabbi. His training included two years of practical work at Netzach Yisrael in Ashkelon, “a large established community with many activities,” followed by another year commuting to Kehilat Sukkat Shalom of Ramat Yishai in the lower Galilee for weekends. This was “a young community with great potential. Rabbi Amy Levin, who was my mentor that last year, officiates there now.”
About three years ago, he also became involved in founding a nonprofit organization with both social and welfare aims, the Chilean Community of Israel (CCHIL), designed to help new immigrants from Chile integrate. CCHIL maintains close ties with Santiago and serves as a bridge to strengthen relations between the countries. Arias is currently deputy chair of the organization.
Since becoming rabbi of Moriah, he has organized group activities for youth and adults that include classes on the weekly Torah portion and other aspects of Judaism, some of which feature singing and liturgical music, others part of a pluralistic study program or Bet Midrash. He also invests time at a nearby school, preparing special needs children for their bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. He has plans for outreach, since his goal is to expand the community.
As for the religious-secular divide that is so characteristic of Israel and often fraught with tension, Arias finds something alien about it. He would like to see more moderate attitudes and calmer perspectives, especially concerning Judaism and Jewish studies.
“Mutual respect for others is a cornerstone belief in our sources, within our tradition, and in the history of the Jewish nation as it developed around the world. There is no question of ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ in South American communities: there is only Judaism; some people are more traditional than others but everyone feels part of the community,” he explains.
“My goal is to make Judaism more accessible for everyone, and to ensure that both secular and religious people – and everyone in between – will have a common space at the Moriah community in Haifa, a place where they can experience their Judaism as a growth process.”