Rabbi Rothstein’s favorite metaphor about human relationships is an archipelago.
“It’s OK for people to be different. It’s OK for people to have different ways of expressing themselves,” he said. In other words, some people are islands. “But they need bridges.”
Rabbi Rothstein sees himself as a human bridge, connecting disparate parts of the Jewish community. “Diaspora Judaism once utilized Jewish Peoplehood as a way to unite the community,” he said. “In our generation so many things are making this idea much, much harder to live by.” That situation inspired many articles on “diversity, inclusion and social change,” and start-up communities whose mottos are “All. Are Welcome. Always.”
Growing up in a multiracial Lubavitch family in Monsey, Rothstein discovered that experiencing racism and discrimination made him “protective of those who experience being cast aside because of being different,” he said. He calls himself comfortable around people from various backgrounds.
In his job as rabbi-in-residence at Hazon, the environmental-awareness “sustainable Jewish community” organization, he builds connections inside and outside the Jewish community, across religious, racial and ethnic divides through educational programming. He did the same as a founder of The Beis Community, a millennial-oriented start-up shul in Washington Heights, and its “unofficial” satellite, the Union Street Sanctuary in Crown Heights. And as a Birthright Israel trip leader. And at Jewish schools and camps.
The Birthright trips pushed him, originally interested in a career in business or science, toward the rabbinate; he enjoyed the teaching and leading experience.
No regular pulpit position for this Yeshiva University ordainee who is soon moving to Harlem. “I’m thinking systematically” i.e., outside one synagogue’s walls — “about the Jewish community,” he said — there are more bridges to build.
Queen Esther, the Musical: A music theory and composition major in college and founder of a Jewish rock band, Rabbi Rothstein hopes to follow in the footsteps of “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is working on a musical about Queen Esther.