Profile: Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski
Previously rabbi of two communities in East London, Harvey Belovski has been rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue since 2003. He read mathematics at University College, Oxford, received rabbinic ordination from Gateshead Talmudical College and holds postgraduate degrees from the University of London in organisational psychology (MSc) and hermeneutics (PhD). He is chief strategist and rabbinic head of University Jewish Chaplaincy, principal of Rimon Jewish Primary School, consultant lead of rabbinic recruitment at the United Synagogue, rabbi of Kisharon, a relationship counsellor and rabbinic consultant. He is engaged in a number of interfaith and community cohesion initiatives and is a trustee of the HOPE not hate Charitable Trust and a faculty member of the Senior Faith in Leadership Programme. He has authored four books and is a regular live contributor to the BBC Radio 2 Zoe Ball Breakfast Show. He is married to Vicki, a journalist, whom he met at Oxford. They have seven beautiful children and a granddaughter.
Why did you choose to study Maths at Univ?
I chose Maths because I was successful at it at school and so it seemed like a natural choice, but it was never a good fit. Notwithstanding the excellent tutors and supportive college environment, I actually rather regret my choice. I went up to read Maths with Computing, which was a new course in 1986, but I switched to just Maths almost immediately. At the end of my first term, when I was still struggling to settle down, I was offered the option of switching to PPE or similar, but I lacked the courage and maturity to make the change, so I stuck with Maths. Fortunately, the Univ experience and many other factors more than compensated, although I never learned to love the course. I had rather better experiences with my Master’s (organisational psychology) and PhD (hermeneutics), but I did these in my 40s…
How do you think you changed from the first moment you stepped through Univ’s doors to your graduation?
I was probably the first of my immediate family to go to university and certainly the first to be exposed to the kind of experience available at Univ. It was also my first time away from home, outside a warm, supportive, yet fairly homogenous, parochial community. My arrival at Univ propelled me into an unfamiliar, challenging space that impacted positively on my aspirations, confidence and self-understanding. It also encouraged me to be relentlessly curious about the world and to welcome relationships with people and ideas that I could never have previously encountered. There’s no question that the Univ experience was transformational in exciting, fundamental ways and has profoundly influenced my life.
What was your journey to becoming a rabbi?
I come from a traditional Jewish family, but by the time I arrived at Univ, I had adopted a more orthodox lifestyle and practice, something that deepened during my years there. While I was at Univ, I came to realise the great disparity between my general and Jewish educations, which I decided to tackle after university. So within a year of leaving Oxford (and having married Vicki in between), I relocated to Gateshead, home of Europe’s leading Talmudic / rabbinic school. I intended to study there for a couple of years (Talmud study tends to be open-ended), but we loved it in Gateshead and we decided to stay on (I eventually studied there for over seven years) and make a career in the rabbinate. I received ordination in 1994, took up my first rabbinic position in 1997, and landed a prestigious pulpit in Golders Green in 2003, where I remain the senior rabbi. However, for many years, I have worked only part-time in the rabbinate, devoting the rest of my time to organisational development, broadcasting and activism.
Have you faced any challenges in your life that you are happy to share here? If so, how did you cope with them?
I have been very fortunate to have had a rewarding, varied and impactful professional life, doing something I love and really believe in. I am also blessed with a long and happy marriage with a wonderful partner, whom I met while we were at Oxford. Yet I found it very hard to secure a position at the start of my career and almost gave up and I have had at least one major professional disappointment. The latter turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it forced me to reconsider my priorities, acquire new skills and change professional direction.
What is your proudest achievement (personal or professional)?
Professional: I am blessed to have been chosen to lead the remarkable Golders Green Synagogue and to have been its spiritual leader for nearly two decades. During my time in Golders Green, with the support of a phenomenal lay-team, we have transformed the community in almost every regard, a process that is still ongoing. As a memorable moment, it was my sad honour to officiate in 2020 at the funeral of my late great teacher, the former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Personal: I am very proud that Vicki and I (mostly Vicki) were able to raise seven beautiful children and are now grandparents.
Do you have any words of wisdom to share with current students?
Ensure you use your Univ experience to develop your curiosity, resilience and ability to listen to others. Expose yourself to views with which you don’t agree, embrace complexity rather than seek simplicity and always allow yourselves to be challenged. Be willing to hone, reconsider and even change your views and never entertain an approach that cancels rather than engages with uncomfortable ideas. Don’t allow your incredible opportunity at Univ to be wasted on the young!
Describe Univ in three words.
Empowering, friendly, transformational.
Published: 21 February 2022