Rabbi Schochet is the Rosh Kollel of the Providence Community Kollel. He spent his childhood in Johannesburg, South Africa but eventually came to the US to study at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College. He spent 18 years there, receiving a masters in Talmudic Law and Rabbinic ordination.
R’ Raphie was the director of the Baltimore chapter of SEED, an organization that helps stimulate the growth of Jewish communities across the country through innovative summer programming.
When not studying or teaching, he has a passion for history and spending time outdoors with his children.
Q: Who do you consider to be your Rebbe? Is there something from his teachings that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
A: Rabbi Tzvi Berkowitz, Shlit”a and Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg ob”m. Rabbi Berkowitz said, “No task is too big, just get started and work your way through it step by step.” And Rabbi Weinberg reminds us, “You have a responsibility to the Klal (the Jewish People) but remember that no one is indispensable.”
Q: If you could have a one hour chavrusa session with anybody throughout history, who would it be and why?
A: Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato [prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher]. His incredible ability to organize and present complex material in a lucid and orderly fashion blows my mind.
Q: What are some of your favorite things about living in Providence, and what are some of the most challenging?
A: I love the fact that people live so simply here and do not seem too caught up in “keeping up with the Joneses.” However, I am saddened and challenged by the divisions in our community and the lines that are so rigidly drawn between different segments of the community. I know we have our differences; I just wish we could talk about them and find our common ground as well.
Q: What would you say is your favorite Shabbos dish?
A: Fresh potato kugel.
Q: If you had to pick, what would you say is your favorite holiday? Why?
A: Sukkot. I love the fact that it creates a forum to invite so many different people into my home to be completely – and quite literally – enveloped in their Jewish identity.
Q: Favorite Nigun (Jewish song)?
A: “Yedid Nefesh.” In the waning hours of Shabbos, you can feel how the soul is yearning to stay in touch with its higher spiritual calling, and this song expresses it so eloquently.
Q: What are some of your favorite spots in Israel and why?
A: I love the alleyways of Yerushalyim (Jerusalem) where you feel and imbibe holiness at every step. The simplicity and piety of that life is overwhelming to me.
Q: Overall, what would you say is your favorite part of being a rabbi?
A: I enjoy my interactions with many different types of people I meet through my work – and the amazing insights and understandings I gain from them.
Q: Would you mind sharing a recent memory or experience that you found impactful?
A: I get to work with so many different people who make such amazing sacrifices for their Jewish life it is really special. For confidentiality reasons I would not go into specifics but suffice to say, from youth to elderly these people are all amazing.
Q: Any insights into this week’s parshah that you could give?
A: The verse states “and we were in their eyes like grasshoppers.” I believe the issue is not so much that they thought they were puny in the eyes of the inhabitants, but they saw themselves as insignificant in the sense they would be unable to effect any change. This is a mistake. It is good to be humble and not have an exaggerated sense of self, however, we have to have a healthy self-esteem that allows us to accomplish things and not to see ourselves as an insignificant bug.
BEN GOLDBERG is the digital media associate for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.