Temple Etz Chaim in Thousand Oaks recently welcomed Rabbi Ari Averbach, taking the reins from former Rabbi Richard Spiegel, who served the congregation for 19 years.
Rabbi Averbach began his service at Temple Etz Chaim this past July, noting that he hadn’t always intended to become a rabbi. He attended New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts and began his career in film and television, also working at a talent agency and a nonprofit for anti-genocide before hearing his calling.
“As I was volunteering and then working for a Jewish nonprofit, a number of people told me that I was going to be a rabbi,” shares Averbach. “It was only when my childhood rabbi, acclaimed author and theologian Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, said the same thing did I take the idea seriously. He, along with some other rabbis I knew, made me realize how meaningful a life as clergy could be.”
After pursuing his education at American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, the Agoura Hills High School graduate returned to his hometown to serve the community at Temple Etz Chaim.
“Temple Etz Chaim is a loving community—diverse in every way. We do so many things, most of them run by incredible volunteers,” Averbach says, adding that his favorite part about being a rabbi is spending time supporting and caring for the members when it really matters.
“I get to be with people in their most touching, personal, celebratory and difficult moments,” he says. “It is incredible to be able to hold their hands through tough times and get to bless them in beautiful ones.”
Despite his often challenging role, Averbach understands the importance of being present, and he is dedicated to providing support to those in need.
“Sitting with a family through these difficult moments, looking in their eyes and seeing pain, trying to bring comfort. It is incredible and impossible and vital,” he says.
Averbach says he plans to deepen the focus on education for adults. Noting that the Temple’s preschool and religious schools are thriving and drawing in many young families, he aims to expand educational opportunities for adults.
“I think so many people want to understand their religion, tradition and culture in an adult way, and so many of us are stunted by what we learned in school as kids,” says Averbach. “We are taking deeper dives into holidays, theology, history and liturgy, and it has been incredible to learn with this brilliant community.”
He invites the community to attend a Hanukkah Celebration at the Temple on Monday, December 23, which will include a candle-lighting ceremony.
Free Time & Family
When he’s not busy attending to his various rabbinical duties, Averbach enjoys spending time with his family, including his wife, who works as a high school English teacher, and three young children. They like visiting nearby destinations, including Santa Barbara, Malibu, Santa Monica and the Hollywood Bowl, as well as enjoying special treats at local favorite eateries.
“I am a sucker for good ice cream, so I love Tifa and Little Calf Creamery. Plus, Pizza Nosh (best eggplant parmesan) and Italia Deli (veggie sandwich has such nostalgia for me from my high school days)!” he shares.
Frequent meals with extended family in the area top Averbach’s list of favorite things to do, as does hiking, when he has the time. He hopes to someday have enough free time to write a book but for now, he enjoys writing often—sermons, articles, liturgy—”it would be nice to try to tackle a larger project,” he says.
For more information about Temple Etz Chaim, located at 1080 E Janss Road, in Thousand Oaks, contact Rabbi Ari Averbach at 805.497.6891.