Getting to Know Rabbi Kosak

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Torah, cooking and pottery, our new Rabbi brings his passions to Neveh Shalom. We asked him a few questions in order to get to know him better.

What attracts you to Portland?
I almost want to answer the opposite, what doesn’t attract me, because it is a much shorter answer. Portland is really far from my mom and siblings.

There is so much that pulls us back to the west, and to Portland in particular. While we probably don’t want to give a call out to any particular business, back in the days when we started up Numi Tea, I made friends with some of the folks at the Tao of Tea. I know Portland is a coffee town (which I also really like), but there is a way that a tea house fits in so well with the ethos of Portland. As I understand, it’s a more environmentally sound beverage than coffee, it has a light and meditative quality to it. It’s made out of leaves.

I feel that I have to address the whole “keep Portland weird” motif. I am so deeply appreciative that the city has the lowest percentage of chain restaurants in the nation, and possesses a wealth of small independently owned shops. If you ask me, the way that America has become defined by strip malls and chains is far weirder. One of my deepest commitments is helping humans thrive in their individuality. Portland is healthy in that regard.

What are the things you are looking forward to bringing to our community.
Torah. Torah as text, Torah as experiential guide and source of spiritual wisdom, Torah as a map for building community and relationships.

Tell us about your family.
Can I answer this colloquially? My family rocks! I am so proud of my boys. Like most parents, it is such a treat and a privilege to watch them grow and develop. Shayah, my oldest, is a voracious reader and a raconteur, currently into football. Amitai, our youngest, has a keen understanding of people. He has a great appreciation for architecture, and one of our last road trips back east will be to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. Laura’s dad, Vern, lives with us. He’s a retired electrician who loves his grandchildren, likes fishing, and is wondering if he can rent a cot at Powell’s bookstore for his home away from home. Laura is the heart of our home, a tremendously wise and kind individual. She has a remarkable set of skills that I’ll let her tell you about. But I wouldn’t want to be on this journey through the world without her at my side. She makes it all “betterer.”

What would people be most surprised to know about you?
My father-in-law always says a secret is something that only one person knows. Maybe I shouldn’t let the cat out of the bag? More seriously, I don’t actually know. People are surprised by others when they finally see something about you that doesn’t fit in with who they imagined you to be. Maybe it is that I am simultaneously an extrovert and an introvert, and am genuinely nourished from the encounter with others and the encounter with myself?

What is your take on the perfect Jewish meal?
Nothing Ashkenazic. I have Italian ancestors from Padua, and love the food of the Italian Jews. Most things from the Sephardic world. But really, some of the restaurants and food stands in Machane Yehudah, the shuk in Jerusalem. Iraqi kubbe soup.

Favorite quirky holiday tradition.
Our first night seder is fully geared toward kids (which I suppose was the idea of the seder). In addition to some increasingly known customs, such as whacking each other with green onions during the refrain to Dayenu, we’ve been holding it on the floor with pillows for many years, Yemenite fashion. Because what kid wants to sit at a table for more than forty seconds?