The new rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel-Ohev Zedek comes to Philadelphia from New York by way of Edmonton.
Like countless other New York City hoop dreamers, Yehoshua Yeamans fantasized of lacing up his high-tops on the floor of Madison Square Garden. Also like so many of those dreamers, his life took a different path.
On Aug. 14, it led him to Northeast Philadelphia as the new senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel-Ohev Zedek. He replaced Rabbi Aaron Felder, who passed away last year after leading the congregation for 33 years.
Steve Agami, president of B’nai Israel-Ohev Zedek said the congregation made the right decision by hiring Yeamans.
“We wanted someone who would continue Rabbi Felder’s legacy of leadership and learning and help lift the shul both physically and spiritually into the future,” Agami said. “After having the opportunity to speak and meet with him numerous times, I see tremendous potential for growth. His experience and personality mesh very well with the diversity of our congregation.”
The 29-year-old Yeamans, who makes no apologies for rooting for the Giants, Yankees and Knicks, grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., in an Orthodox home, where he attended synagogue often and went to Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy in Riverdale, N.Y.
After he graduated high school in 2003, he went to Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh in Israel for two years. He lived on a kibbutz and developed a love for Judaism and Israel.
“That was really an eye-opening experience,” he said.
In Israel, he was part of the hesder program, where he had classes with Orthodox Israeli students and learned about Torah and Judaism.
In 2005, he returned to the United States, moving to Baltimore, where he studied at Ner Israel Rabbinical College and pursued a business degree at the same time. His plan was to focus on business, but he determined that his true calling lay with rabbinics.
So, at the age of 22, halfway through his MBA at Loyola College, he decided to become a leader in the Jewish community.
Looking for advice, he went to one of his mentors, Tzvi Berkowitz, a rabbi at his school and asked him if he should finish his degree. The response: “Of course.”
He received most of his training from Rabbi Moshe Hauer of B’nai Jacob Shaarei Zion, a large Orthodox congregation in Baltimore. In 2012, he was ordained as a rabbi and got his masters in business administration from Loyola.
After ordination, he spent the past two years as an assistant rabbi at Beth Israel Synagogue in Edmonton, Alberta.
Although it was a much smaller Jewish community than he was accustomed to — around 6,000 people — he enjoyed his two years there. He was also the National Conference of Synagogue Youth director in Edmonton and in charge of youth programming at Beth Israel .
While he and his family loved Canada, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity at Congregation B’nai Israel-Ohev Zedek. In January, he met with the search committee at Ohev Zedek and spent Shabbat with the congregation in March. While there are only 70 families, Yeamans feels there is room for growth.
“I was extremely impressed,” he said. “They are extremely dedicated to this community and shul.”
He knew Northeast Philly well because his wife Sarah grew up there and they would visit often.He said it will be nice being closer to his family in New York and Philadelphia, and he is ready to kick off the Jewish New Year with Ohev Zedek.
And that is about the only kickoff he and many of his congregants will be able to agree on during football season.