Letter to Congregation from Rabbi Berkowitz

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Shalom Vassar Temple Family!

Words cannot express how honored and humbled I am to have been selected for the position of rabbi at Vassar Temple. This is a dream I have held close to my heart since I was twelve years old, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the Vassar Temple community for this opportunity.

I am grateful to Sandra Mamis, Bob Ritter, the search committee, and the board for guiding me through this process. You have welcomed me with open arms, and engaged with me in many honest, thoughtful, and heartfelt conversations about the past, present and future of Vassar Temple. Together, we are preparing to launch a “Revolution of Ruach,” by discovering new ways to engage members of this community through worship, learning, the pursuit of justice, and the sacred task of community building.

I have enjoyed getting to know the Vassar Temple community throughout this process: through singing, praying, learning Torah, and sharing our stories. While there are still some of you I have yet to meet, I look forward to connecting with each of you as we worship and study together, as we celebrate simchas and as we support one another through difficult times.

I hope you have had a chance to learn about me from the committee, but just in case, let me share some of my story with you. I grew up at Temple Sholom in Broomall, PA, where I developed a love of Jewish music and ritual, and began leading worship in middle school. My summers at Union for Reform Judaism Camp Harlam cemented my commitment to “living Judaism,” a faith that can be infused into every aspect of one’s life, not just practiced in a synagogue.

After graduating from Brandeis University, I began my studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, first in Jerusalem and then in New York City. In New York, I served on the board of the HUC-JIR Soup Kitchen, and interned with hospitals, Hillels, summer camps, and in congregations throughout the Northeast.

Synagogue life has always been my passion and, after my ordination in 2008, I spent five incredible years as the associate rabbi at Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, North Carolina. As we celebrated the daily, weekly, and yearly cycles of Jewish life, I built relationships within that community that I will cherish forever. I created new worship experiences for everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens, and developed a variety of educational programs for adults, children, and families.

I currently serve on the faculty of Gann Academy, a pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham, MA. Though I still spend my days teaching Torah and leading worship, I miss synagogue life so much that my heart aches. I have been so excited over the last few weeks that it has been hard for me to believe that there are still several months before the school year ends and we can officially get started!

My goal as a rabbi is to empower those in our community to build meaningful lives grounded in the Jewish tradition. In a world that is changing at a rapid-fire pace, the Jewish community has had to work hard to keep up. Our challenge is to find a place in Judaism for people of all ages, genders, orientations, and backgrounds, as well as families of every shape, size, and composition.

I believe that the teachings of our faith can be relevant and inspiring for generations to come, particularly when we view them through the inclusive and innovative lens of Reform Judaism. Working together, we can create meaningful worship, enriching learning experiences, and a warm and welcoming community for all who seek to be a part of the Jewish story.

I look forward to connecting with the Dutchess Interfaith Council and partnering with local clergy and organizations to advocate for positive change in the wider community. I currently serve on the board of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, and I’m a strong supporter of the Israel Religious Action Center in Jerusalem.

When I’m not on the pulpit, I love to read, write, and participate in live storytelling events. I’m working on a book about heroic women in the Bible, and I enjoy teaching classes in writing creative midrash. You can find some of my writing on my blog http://thisiswhatarabbilookslike.wordpress.com.

I love music and theater, and am currently playing Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man” at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA. Thanks to the generosity of your members, I have already been to two productions at the Half Moon Theatre, and I look forward to being a regular theatergoer on the Poughkeepsie scene. I enjoy bringing these passions onto the pulpit when I can, and I can’t wait to be a part of your famous Purim shpiels!

One of the most treasured items in my home is a paper-cutting displaying the words of Pirke Avot 1:6, “Accept for yourself a rabbi and acquire for yourself a friend.” Some read the verses as two separate instructions, but for me they are one and the same. I look forward to being both rabbi and friend to all of you at Vassar Temple, and I know that you will be both my teachers and my companions as we navigate this next phase of our lives together.

I hope you will join with me in our prayer of gratitude for special moments: Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiymanu, v’higianu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this joyous time.

Kol tuv (all the best)
Rabbi Leah Rachel Berkowitz

[VT has put together a video of photographs of Rabbi Berkowitz. Please have a look.]

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4 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on This is What a Rabbi Looks Like and commented:
    With joy, gratitude, and pride, I would like to announce that, as of July 1, 2015, I will be serving as the rabbi of Vassar Temple in Poughkeepsie, NY. I am grateful to the board and membership of Vassar Temple for taking the first step in this journey with me, and to all of the friends, family, and colleagues who have supported me as I sought out a new spiritual home (and kept quiet for an inordinately long time). It is bittersweet to be leaving Boston just as we were getting reaquainted, but I’m excited to begin my next adventure. Below is the letter I wrote for the congregational meeting where I was unanimously voted to be Vassar Temple’s new rabbi!

    Reply
  2. Lynne Kohn

     /  March 8, 2015

    Congratulations, Rabbi Berkowitz! So glad you have found a dream happening. From strength to strength!
    Very fondly, Lynne Kohn

    Reply
  3. Julie

     /  April 16, 2015

    Mazel tov! (Keep those ice scrapers handy for Poughkeepsie winters!) – The Farkas Family

    Reply
  1. Letter to Congregation – Congregational Meeting to Approve Rabbi | Vassar Temple Blog

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