By day, Rachel Kraus is Vice President of marketing for the World Trade Center retail development, and Daniel Kraus is the director of strategic partnerships for the Birthright Israel Foundation. But on evenings and weekends, the couple plays a central role leading and directing a wide range of pastoral functions at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (KJ), an 1,100-family Modern Orthodox Synagogue on the Upper East Side. When they’re not at their day jobs, they can be found counseling couples, newlyweds and brides-to-be (Rachel); leading Torah classes in their home; giving sermons on weekends (Rachel’s sermons “always pulls a crowd,” said Daniel); hosting large home-cooked Shabbat meals; baking and delivering challah to those in need (which Rachel does at 2 a.m. on Thursday nights and Daniel delivers via Citi Bike on Fridays — “Sleep is for the afterlife,” said Daniel); and raising four kids to boot.
“Our shared passion is to create a stronger Jewish community,” said Daniel, originally from Melbourne, Australia. “We want to break the model of what people see as an antiquated religion, and present something that is relevant and meaningful.”
The couple began sharing the pulpit in 2005 as the couple behind the Manhattan Jewish Experience, a nonprofit for young Jewish professionals in their 20s and 30s. It was while running MJE that the couple first adopted the “open-door policy” which still animates their apartment today.
While the duo might be far from the conventional rabbi and rebbetzin — “we prefer not to use labels — they create barriers,” said Rachel — they are driven by a shared vision of a vibrant, welcoming Jewish community. From her experience working with top brands, including PepsiCo and Apple, Rachel has gleaned some tips.
“Your message has to be relevant,” said Rachel. “What you’re creating has to be accessible.”
Daniel, who is known as the “social media rabbi,” uses a variety of platforms to reach a broad and diverse audience. He has over 11,000 followers on Twitter.
Their key to getting everything done: “We are in complete lockstep with one another,” said Daniel. Hyper-organization, Google Express and Amazon Prime also keep their worlds turning, Rachel added.
State of the union: To keep their relationship fresh, the couple conducts what they call a “State of the Union” every few months, during which they check in about the emotional, mental and spiritual state of the other.