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Voices of Faith: Israeli-born rabbi brings humor, wisdom to his growing congregation

Rabbi Ron Herstik draws from an abundant toolbox to lead Congregation Dor Tamid in Duluth.

He brings a deep and rich education to bear on his duties as a Jewish leader in the booming Gwinnett County and north Fulton area. Herstik is the son of Czechoslovakian Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 9 years old.

He has a wife and twin 13-year-old daughters, and holds family dear - both his biological and his congregational families.

Q: How long have you been a rabbi? How long have you served at Congregation Dor Tamid?

A: I just celebrated my 30th anniversary as a rabbi. I came to Dor Tamid a little over three years ago, after it came into existence. Congregations B'nai Dorot and Shir Shalom merged to create Dor Tamid. I was the first rabbi of the new congregation.

Q: How and when did you know that being a rabbi is what you wanted to do as your life's work?

A: I never thought about entering the rabbinate until I was about to graduate from (University of California, Los Angeles). I was born in Israel and came here at about age 9. I was returning to Israel for graduate study and was being interviewed for some grants by people from the rabbinical seminary. I was invited to study for the rabbinate.

I went to Brown University for my Ph.D., and became a Ph.D. dropout. I realized it was purely my calling to be a congregational rabbi.

Q: Did you ever consider a different career?

A: I began to study for engineering. I majored in physics and math and wanted to study electrical engineering in college. I came to the conclusion that I would only suffer, because my math skills were lousy. My true love was history and social sciences.

Q: What would you say is the most challenging thing about your job?

A: Probably the tremendous number of hours that I spend working with my congregation and community. It's a difficult balance between family and my calling.

Q: What's the most rewarding thing?

A: Teaching adults. I get along pretty well with our kids, but I prefer teaching adults. I also am rewarded by visiting the ill members of my congregation.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to a young person considering entering the rabbinate, what would it be?

A: Develop a good sense of humor. You get to see the best and sometimes the worst in people. You have to learn to deal with the whole spectrum. You have to remember that you yourself are a human being. Don't confuse yourself with God, in other words. Rabbis don't know everything. I have to learn something new every day.

Q: Who would you most like to meet, and why?

A: Probably the presidential candidates for both parties. I'd like to speak to them and elicit honest answers from them on various issues.

Q: Have you seen any changes in the Jewish community in Gwinnett County, or have you seen a difference in how the Jewish community is regarded here?

A: We know that the movement, of course, is north. We are the beneficiaries of that movement here in the north metro area.

We started out as 220 families. We are now 420 families with the largest Jewish religious school in the state - 530 students. Our congregation draws people from Cumming, Buford, Lawrenceville and the Johns Creek/Alpharetta area. People want to identify with the Jewish community.

Q: You have this opportunity to tell readers anything you'd like about Congregation Dor Tamid. What would you like to say?

A: Our effort here is to create a center of Judaism, a place that will be a safe haven for people who want to explore their Judaism, live a Jewish life and learn about our tradition, no matter where they start with knowledge.

We intend to create a community that's not just concerned with its own members, but with the community around us. We want to perpetuate Jewish values. Judaism has to speak to our current situation; while Jews living in the 20th century must value and honor tradition, we also must adapt.

Congregation Dor Tamid is located at 9810-B Medlock Bridge Road, suite 104, in Duluth. Work has begun on clearing land on 10.4 acres on Parsons Road for a synagogue that should be open in a year. For more information about Congregation Dor Tamid or the Jewish religious school, call 770-623-8860.

Each week, the Daily Post profiles a different religious leader in Gwinnett. If you have a suggestion on who we should profile next, e-mail features@gwinnettdailypost.com.