Time to Reflect

Rabbi Reuven Boshnack Looks Back on Becoming a Jewish Mentor and Mental-Health Counselor

October 14, 2014
Rabbi Reuven Boshnack, teaching a class at Lander College for Women.

Growing up in what he describes as “a strong Conservative” Jewish household in Oceanside, Long Island, Rabbi Reuven Boshnack intuited early on that he’d want to continue his religious studies. “It had always been a part of [me], ever since third or fourth grade,” he says. “Unlike a lot of my classmates, we always had a sukkah, we always had Hanukkah and Pesach, and those were always things that were present growing up. It was an ongoing thing in my life. I don’t know if I could call attention to one specific moment.

It was, indeed, a journey, one that took Boshnack from his Oceanside home to Yeshiva University, where he completed both Rabbinical and Psychology studies over nearly a decade. Several years later, he embarked on Touro’s Mental Health Counseling program, earning his MS in 2010, enabling him to see patients both privately and in a religious or academic environment.

Today, the Brooklyn husband and father of four is an ordained Rabbi. But owing to his passion for helping youth navigate Jewish life, he’s simultaneously Director of the Orthodox Union’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative (JLIC) at Brooklyn College Hillel. This, is all in addition to running a psychotherapy practice that specializes in couples counseling, sex therapy, spirituality, trauma and anxiety.

Boshnack’s interests in contemporary psychology and historical spirituality may seem disparate. But in fact, the yen to open a therapeutic practice arose while counseling men soon to be married as part of his Rabbinical duties. “Eventually, [through] these conversations that I was having with the guys, I felt the need to deepen my understanding [of human nature], which led to what interested me in couples therapy,” he explains. “It’s been very positive in terms of my being able to help people from our community in terms of both matters of intimacy and communication, and interaction in their married lives.”

A lot of his clients come from deeply religious communities in Boro Park (where he did much of his Touro coursework), Williamsburg, Flatbush and the Five Towns on Long Island. As such, one might presume that they’d be hesitant to discuss such private matters in a relatively clinical setting. But in the nearly two years since opening his practice, Boshnack has found that the opposite is true.

“A lot of times, they know exactly what they’re getting into when they come to me,” he says. “They’re glad they’re not alone, that there’s somebody who understands. A lot of people have problems with sexuality and need a little help, and that’s OK. It’s OK to talk about these things, because otherwise, how are you going to deal with what’s bothering you?”

Sounds simple enough, though Boshnack’s humility belies the 20 years he spent cultivating such a unique range of skills and community tutelage. Which begs the question: Has this Rabbi, student mentor and spiritual/relationship advisor found his niche, or might the next 20 years lead to as-yet-unexplored avenues in science, spirituality and the humanities?

“Life is an evolution, not a revolution,” he offers. “Either you’re going forward or you’re falling apart. There’s always room for change and new perspectives. It’s just a matter of being able to have the time to reflect and see what the new plan for each day is going to be.”