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Rabbi Nachum Shifren (born c. 1951), also known as the surfing rabbi, is an Orthodox Lubavitcher Chassidic rabbi and accomplished surfer. Active in conservative politics, Shifren was the candidate in 2010 of the California Republican Party in the California state senate's 26th district.
A native of southern California, Shifren grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where he learned to surf as a youth. He worked as a lifeguard in Malibu as a young man, a time in his life when he was not religious. He began his path to religiosity when he met an Australian rabbi who liked to bodysurf and performed sacraments at the beach. At the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, Shifren went to Israel to volunteer on a kibbutz, and in 1977 he emigrated to Israel. Shifren served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a combat fitness instructor and received a degree in Combat Fitness Training at the Wingate Institute for Sports in Netanya, Israel.
Shifren received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California of Santa Barbara in Spanish and German Literature. He continued graduate studies in West Germany at the University of Goettingen. Shifren is fluent in Spanish, German, Hebrew, and Yiddish. He attended Toras Chayim Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Yeshivat Tomchei Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel, where in 1990 he was ordained to the rabbinate. While studying in Israel, Shifren lived in Kfar Tapuah When he returned to the United States, Shifren worked as a teacher in Los Angeles. "He was a highly respected educator for his knowledge, his caring attitude, and his personal integrity by both his students and his colleagues at Figueroa Elementary School, a racially isolated minority school in South Los Angeles. He reached out to the parents of his students who he could converse with either in their native Spanish or in English and this helped to increase parent participation at the school" (from Joseph Laden, a teacher at Figueroa while Mr.Shifren was there and who has taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 28 years).
He is affiliated with Chabad.
In October, 2010, he travelled to England to speak at an EDL rally. In his speech, he said that "[h]istory will be recorded that on this day, read by our children for eternity, one group lit the spark to liberate us from the oppressors of our two governments and the leftist, fifth column, quisling press, and that it was the EDL which started the liberation of England from evil."
Also in 2010, Shifren penned an article that referred to student protesters as "the front line of an army of Muslims that is waiting patiently to take over and subvert our country," called the students "terrorists-in-training" and announced "we are at war with Islam."
In 2017 at a San Diego city council meeting, Shifren publicly defended members of an anti-immigrant group that protested the murals in the local Chicano Park.
Numerous print and broadcast media have done stories about Shifren and his "Surfing Rabbi" persona. He founded Jewish Surfers International and the Surf & Soul newsletter. He frequently uses surfing imagery to make religious points. "There's no way a skier can get the same connection with the Creator," Shifren told Salon in 1999. "The ocean is the first act of creation, while snow is not an act of creation. Skiers don't have the mountain chasing them, but the mountain of a wave chases surfers. They struggle against currents as they ride waves that have been around since time immemorial."
He leads annual "Kosher Surf Camp" trips to Costa Rica. He has written two books, Surfing Rabbi: A Kabbalistic Quest for Soul and Kill Your Teacher: Corruption And Racism in Los Angeles City Schools. A movie based on Shifren is currently in development.
- Denise Dowling, "The surfing rabbi," Salon.com (Tuesday, Aug 3, 1999 15:07 ET)
- 'Surfer rabbi' joins EDL march against UK 'Islamification'