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à la the Rabbinate: TORCH rabbi has rich rabbinical heritage
Jewish Herald Voice | VOICES IN HOUSTON 2011
By Jeanne F. Samuels

The legacy of the rabbinate goes back perhaps 10 generations on my paternal grandmother’s side,” mused Houston’s Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe. “But,” he added, “on my paternal grandfather’s side, it’s another story.”

Rabbi Wolbe is the executive director of Torah Outreach Resource Center of Houston, which was founded in Houston in 1998. Now in its Bar Mitzvah year, TORCH is made up of nine rabbis and 10 rabbis’ wives, and a board of directors. TORCH is a daily resource for Jews of all observance and non-observance levels in the greater Houston area, connecting them to Judaism through innovative teaching methods.

It’s in the veins

Rabbi Wolbe recounted how his grandfather, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, was an only child, raised in a secular home in Berlin, Germany. Shlomo’s father, a professor, was anti-religious. But, his mother encouraged young Shlomo to learn and stay connected to Judaism.

“He was a self-made rabbi, whose teachers shaped him,” Rabbi Wolbe said. “At age 13, my grandfather went to gymnasium in Frankfurt and, at age 15, he persuaded his parents to let him go to Switzerland to ‘some sort of yeshiva.’” It was there, in the 1930s, a scholar in residence delivered a Mussar discourse, which “turned him on,” Rabbi Wolbe continued. That rabbi sent Shlomo to the prominent Mir Yeshiva in Poland, for which he had to seek his parents’ permission to attend.

After three years in the Mir Yeshiva, the rise of Hitler forced Shlomo – a German national – to leave Poland. He moved to Sweden, where he began a girls’ school. It was there that Rabbi Wolbe’s grandparents met and married. The couple lived in Sweden seven years before they moved to Israel.

While many rabbis in Israel opposed the couple’s marriage (“Who is this German guy?” they challenged.), their union was accepted by the chief rabbinate. “My grandfather was a magnificent leader, who began a prominent yeshiva in Israel,” Rabbi Wolbe said proudly.

Three generations ago

“Grandmother’s father was a rabbi in Slovadka/Kovno in Lithuania,” Rabbi Wolbe said. “His father-in-law was Rabbi Dov Tzvi Heller; his brother-in-law was Rabbi Yakov Kamenetsky, one of the leading rabbis in New York.

Rabbi Wolbe’s father, Rabbi Avraham “Avi” Wolbe, was ordained, but he never practiced as a rabbi. Nonetheless, he served many years as a chaplain in the IDF. Today, Rabbi Wolbe’s parents reside in New York, where his father is a mental health specialist.

“My grandfather was ‘impactful’ on my life,” Rabbi Wolbe said. “He believed that it was the responsibility of every Jew to teach, to learn. When he spoke of Jewish outreach, he said it was needed ‘even as far away as Texas.’”

Family tree roots run deep

As for Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe: His first position was in Connecticut. “But, I looked for something more serious,” he confided. So, when the opportunity came to come to Texas, he didn't hesitate.

Rabbi Wolbe is married to Zehava, the daughter of a rabbi, granddaughter of a rabbi and the great-granddaughter of a rabbi. After the two were wed, they went to Israel for a number of years, so he could earn his rabbinic ordination. He was ordained by the chief rabbi, as well as the head of the Bet Din. “It’s like getting as many degrees as you can,” he explained.

A force in outreach, Zehava is very much involved in TORCH – learning, teaching and hosting. There are always tens of guests at their Shabbat dinner table, and even more celebrating holidays.

The Wolbes have five children: Dovi, 8; Meira, 7; Shlomo, 5; Ahuva, 3 and Yehuda, 7 months.

Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe is one of nine siblings – seven boys and two girls – and the rabbinic heritage continues, with five of the rabbi’s brothers.

“But, you don’t need to be a rabbi to make a difference in a Jewish life,” Rabbi Wolbe declared. “Every Jew is a link in the chain. You have to think about how to enrich those links in the chain.” 

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