Rabbi Aaron Philmus
Rabbi Aaron began his service at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue on July 1, 2023, and has a goal of leading OZ forward with a focus on spiritual life, Jewish culture, and social justice. He feels fortunate to have joined an incredibly talented clergy and staff team at OZ and has begun to collaborate with the team to create even more opportunities for connection for OZ’s diverse community.
The Rabbi will be working to meet Vermonters where they are in terms of their type and style of Judaism, to provide a welcoming home for a diverse Jewish community, offering both traditional and innovative spiritual practice, learning for all ages and a commitment to social action. He will work to make OZ and Judaism accessible for all Vermonters who are interested and will advocate for diversity and inclusion among individuals who are interfaith, Jewish-adjacent, LGBTQIA+, Jews of color, Jews by choice, and anyone who may want to enter the virtual or physical doors of OZ.
Rabbi Aaron is a compassionate person and gifted scholar, who brings an infusion of prayer and music to OZ, leading with love, intention, and soul, and who makes a great partner with Cantor Steve. He also is committed to working closely with our pre-school and Hebrew school directors, other staff, board, volunteers, and congregants to grow the vibrancy of our community.
Rabbi Aaron feels deeply connected to the earth and seeks transformative earth-based experiences to infuse his work. “I feel closest to God when I’m in nature,” stated Rabbi Aaron. “I believe that’s where you feel the purity and power of God’s creative force. I look forward to helping shape new outdoor experiences to add to OZ’s spiritual offerings.”
Rabbi Aaron shared his excitement about joining the OZ community, stating: “My family feels like we’ve come home. My wife Valerie is from New England, and we spent many years in the region, raising our family and working to create vibrant Jewish communities. We’re excited to have returned and to call Vermont our new home. We fell in love with Burlington, the people of OZ, and Vermont during our conversations and visits with members of the OZ community during the months leading up to our arrival. Coming to Burlington feels ‘bashert,’ or ‘meant to be.’”
A major catalyst for Rabbi Aaron in pursuing a career as a rabbi was the September 11, 2001, attack on our nation. After terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center, several hours passed before Aaron was able to confirm that both his father and brother-in-law, who worked in the buildings, had survived the tragedy. In the aftermath, he decided to become a rabbi and began his studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City in 2003. “The incident was a trigger for me,” stated Rabbi Aaron. “There are people in this world who will twist religion to do horrible things, and I felt the need to be part of a group that was steering the ship in a positive direction amidst the chaos and negativity. That’s why I decided to pursue a path as a rabbi. Many people believe religion is the cause of this kind of destructive behavior, but I truly believe that it is part of the solution.”
Rabbi Aaron earned his rabbinic ordination from JTS in 2009 after having received a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2000. Upon his ordination, Rabbi Aaron worked at a synagogue in San Francisco, serving as the Director of Congregational Life and Learning. Thereafter, Rabbi Aaron served as the rabbi at congregations in Newtown, PA and East Greenwich, RI, from 2014 to 2022. Most recently, during the 2022-23 academic year, Rabbi Aaron taught middle and high school students and served as the school rabbi at a K-12 Hebrew academy in Overland Park, KS. While Rabbi Aaron enjoyed his school teaching experience, he realized that serving as a congregational rabbi best enabled him to bring joy and inspiration to all ages in the Jewish Community.
Rabbi Aaron, his wife Valerie, a professional chef, and their three children – ages 16, 13, and 4 – are living in Burlington and look forward to getting to know the many members of the OZ community and beyond.
Cantor Steve Zeidenberg
Steve, a native of Toronto, Canada, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from York University there. A graduate of the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), he was formally invested as Hazzan and earned a Masters degree in Sacred Music. He also completed 400 hours of chaplaincy training through the Center for Pastoral Education at JTS and worked as a chaplain intern for older adults.
Steve is looking forward to working as part of a collaborative clergy team and engaging congregants by tapping into his vast repertoire of congregational melodies, both contemporary and traditional. He has a longstanding passion for leyning Torah, Haftorah and Megillot, but takes even more pride in empowering congregants of all ages with these and other core synagogue skills. His clinical pastoral education will enable him to be a compassionate presence for OZers in need, and he enjoys teaching and interacting with children.