Rabbi David Polsky flashes a toothy grin inside the sanctuary of Congregation Anshe Sfard. Born in New York’s Upper West Side and a resident of the Big Apple for most of his 33 years, he is newly arrived in the Big Easy preparing to take on duties as the first full-time pulpit rabbi for the synagogue in a decade.
Polsky and his wife Mindy have set up residence within walking distance of the only traditional Orthodox synagogue remaining in Orleans Parish, located on the edge of the tony Garden District at 2230 Carondelet Street.
Polsky interviewed for the post this past February, arriving in town to experience a bit of Carnival parading. He and his wife were intrigued. “One of the things that attracted me to this challenge is that I’m a city person and New Orleans is one of the most fascinating cities,” he states.
“Also, how often do you get a chance to be the rabbi of an urban population?” Polsky asks. “Certainly, how often where you have this really beautiful building and such a fascinating city in such a historic location?”
Except for a year and a half of post high school study at Shaarei Mevasesret Zion in Israel, Polsky has spent all of his life in New York. He was a student of Manhattan Day School and attended high school at Yeshiva University. Following his return from Israel, he completed his undergraduate degree in Jewish Thought in 2001 at Yeshiva University and was eventually ordained there in 2004, just prior to his marriage in August of that year.
Polsky admits that he was fixed up, but not in the traditional way with a shidduch (matchmaker) or through more modern means such as Internet dating sites. “I went out with one twin sister and it didn’t work out,” he explains. “I met the other twin sister, who happened to be Mindy’s best friend and the rest is, as they say, history.”
For most of the past seven years he has spent time working with the Orthodox Union (OU) as a spokesman for their Kosher Consumer hotline. Nationwide callers would submit questions to Polsky about various aspects of kashrut (kosher laws). “They didn’t have an adequate hotline person and I filled the bill,” he boasts.
One of the more attractive aspects of his new job, Polsky says, is the ability to represent traditional Judaism, not only to the Jewish community, but to the Greater New Orleans community as well. “Also, the fact that it’s by far the closest to the tourist areas – the Convention Center and the French Quarter – it provides an opportunity to host guests and to potentially reach many Jews who might be living in those areas,” he continues.
Once his initial two-year contract with Anshe Sfard was finalized in June, Polsky tendered his two-week notice to the OU and started packing for the journey down south. Knowing they needed room for their many books and other possessions as well as for entertaining guests for holidays and Shabbat, they looked for a home that had at least three bedrooms.
“My wife and I are eagerly looking forward to hosting guests for meals,” he insists.
“I hope to provide a very welcoming atmosphere that is very hospitable and to re-establish relationships with all of the Jews in the area such that they would feel comfortable in coming here.”
While wife Mindy knows fully the value of setting up a Jewish home, she also holds a doctorate degree in applied behavior analysis. Working methodically with autistic children in behavioral reinforcement, she will be setting up a New Orleans office for a California based firm called Autism Spectrum Therapies, according to her husband.
Among his top plans, Polsky looks to bring in more worshippers and to establish Anshe Sfard as a more recognized presence in the Greater New Orleans area. “It is a challenge and I welcome the challenge,” he adds.
To that end Polsky has already become a member and attended his first meeting of the New Orleans Rabbinical Council in late August. Through mutual friends in New York he already knew Rabbi Uri Topolosky from Congregation Beth Israel and through his work with the OU got to know Rabbi Yossi Nemes of the Metairie Chabad Center. He says he looks forward to meeting his other colleagues in future weeks to come.
Polsky also is anxious to engage his congregation in time for the High Holidays. He has arranged for a classically trained chazan, Ron Donenfield from Passaic, N.J. to help conduct religious services. Polsky hopes to establish a Facebook page for the synagogue soon and has also established a Twitter account in the synagogue’s name, @anshesfard as well as a personal Twitter account @BigEasyRabbi.