August 2022MAIN STORY

Tifereth Israel Synagogue Welcomes Rabbi Mathew Marko

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By Deborah Vietor

Rabbi Mathew Marko is a certified scuba diver, skydiver, motorcycle rider, and carpenter with an extensive theater background as a performer. He also plays guitar, sings, and is a kosher chef of international cuisine.

Why not become a Rabbi?

He defines Tifereth as meaning “splendor, glory, and wonder.” This is what the congregation is looking forward to with the new Rabbi who became the leader of the congregation on the first of July.

The Rabbi has an unusual and eclectic background, as in college he majored in Theatre and minored in Hebrew. Working Nagarut (Hebrew for Carpentry) and teaching Woodshop at Camp Ramah for many years, he had a special bond with campers. He shared how they often asked what Jewish wooden objects, such as Shabbat candle sticks, would look like and how to shape them. Rabbi Marko explained how when working with wood, the object will tell what it wants to be.

As a young person, studying Hebrew and Judaism, he told his Rabbi, “I don’t believe in G-d.” He could not comprehend how people could do bad things with no consequences, while people performing acts of kindness were not rewarded. What he received in kind was a stern lecture that was not inspirational.

Years later, Rabbi Marko, as a more secular Jew, met his wife Marie, a Network Engineer, Master gardener, single parent with two children, and a “Jew by choice”, having converted before she met him. When he asked her why she wanted a Jewish household, she responded that she wanted a home that was G-d centered, and balanced with Judaism and she wanted him to be a part of it.

Rabbi’s mentor and friend in Los Angeles Rabbi Dan Shevitz explained to him that Judaism is more of a “system of questions than answers.” The more Rabbi Marko studied, the more he became drawn to Judaism. He had been a woodworking carpenter with a successful furniture store and a Shakespearean actor. Why not a Rabbi?

“Call it the will of G-d or the way the universe wanted to unfold,” he said. “I will go to Rabbinical school.” He believes it is important to look at Judaism from all different perspectives and to “meet people where they are.” He already spoke Hebrew and had studied Torah, he wanted to learn more and be amongst the people.

He studied Torah, Jewish law, philosophy, theology, and liturgy and learned to lead the services, earning a Master of Arts in Rabbinic Literature and Rabbinic ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. Upon graduation from the seminary, a position through Temple Beth Israel was presented in Greenville, South Carolina.

Believing in a vast G-d, with infinite love and seeking a higher level of understanding, Rabbi Marko had found his true calling.

Tifereth Israel was founded over 100 years ago and Rabbi Marko is looking forward to working with the 350 families comprising the congregation while introducing new ways to accomplish Jewish life and learning.

As we know, Jewish education is a vital part of belonging to a synagogue and Rabbi Marcos enjoys nothing more than spending time with the “littles,” as he calls them, being involved in teaching Torah to all ages and often those going through adolescence who question the existence of G-d. He even keeps M&M’s at his desk for them, with an open door policy to answer any questions or concerns which may arise.

The Rabbi has coordinated and organized trips for youth to Israel, which he greatly loves and supports, visiting many places “outside the box,” including markets and locations not generally listed on traditional itineraries. Groups can truly experience Israel in a unique and special way. He encourages youth to go for a swim and personalize their spiritual experience. They can celebrate Shabbat in different ways, in addition to learning about other cultures. His teaching is unique as he laughs with them, prays, teaches and sings with them, playing the guitar, all an essential part of an in-depth Jewish cultural education.

Rabbi Marko is available for many memorable occasions, including weddings, brises, baby namings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, holidays, and many other events as well. Although he and his wife Marie consider themselves ordinary people, they are extraordinary in their approach to life and improving the lives of others. Recently he has mourned with and has been deeply affected by those who have lost loved ones.

Rabbi Marko welcomes all people to participate in all areas of Judaism. He suggests when someone wants to come only once a year (for the High Holidays) he or she should come to Purim where there is fun, laughter, food, and drink!

Although the Rabbi has only begun his journey with Tifereth Israel, he has many new ideas and plans for the future, including an outreach program for seniors, an essential focus of the congregation. He also welcomes the congregation to bring essential items such as toiletries for those underserved in the community.

His calling includes Torah, the Jewish community, tradition balanced with spiritual modernism, social justice, and Israel. His passion for social justice prompted him to walk in the Pride parade. He has lived on a kibbutz, is an AIPAC Leffell Rabbinic Leadership fellow, and is a fierce defender of Israel.

Tifereth Israel’s President, Debbie Mishek shared her thoughts about welcoming Rabbi Marko: “Even though Rabbi Marko has only been with us for a short time, it is clear what a blessing he is not only to the Tifereth Israel community but also to the entire San Diego Jewish community. His warmth and compassion are so heartwarming and inspiring. Rabbi Marko’s emphasis on community building and creative approach to everything is so appreciated. He is bringing more music into services which is uplifting. How great to have such a wonderful spiritual leader and partner who is willing to jump right in at a moment’s notice.”

Norman Kort, Tifereth Israel Board Member shared his enthusiasm for Rabbi Marko: “Rabbi Mathew Marko has already shown his dynamic personality in the short time since he became our Rabbi. I particularly appreciate his innovative approach to Torah discussions, making them both accessible and interesting. Sadly, Rabbi Marko has already had to officiate at multiple funerals and Shiva Minyanim where he showed a sincere depth of compassion and empathy. I look forward to having Rabbi Marko guide our Congregation and me in our spiritual journey going forward. I particularly appreciate his patience in addressing my questions with insightful answers.”

Rabbi Marko and his wife and best friend Marie are excited to begin their creative, impactful, and dedicated journey with Tifereth Israel Synagogue.

Tifereth Israel Synagogue is located at 6660 Cowles Mountain Blvd. Learn more at www.tifereth.com.

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