Faith & Spirituality

October 8, 2010

New rabbi embraces opportunities to teach, share at Plattsburgh synagogue

New rabbi is here, present for flock at Temple Beth Israel

PLATTSBURGH — The High Holidays were on the horizon as Rabbi Emma Gottlieb arrived at Temple Beth Israel here.

"It was in some ways trial by fire," she said, "and in some ways the perfect way to get to know the community."

The High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — are a time when Jews examine their lives, make reparation.

"You really get a sense of who everybody is," the rabbi said.

She used the opportunity to introduce herself more completely to her congregation, which numbers about 80 families.

"Hineni," she told those who filled the temple for the Rosh Hashanah evening service. "Here I am."

The sacred Hebrew word was uttered at the start of that evening's service in Plattsburgh, she said, just as it was at synagogues around the world.

Thirteen times, the rabbi told her flock, Hineni is found in the Torah. God used it to get Noah's attention as he warned him of the flood to come.

"In the biggest test of Abraham's life — the test of the sacrifice of (his son) Isaac — ... God calls to him, 'Avraham! Avraham!' and Abraham responds 'Hineni,' Here I am!

"Not only is Abraham answering the implicit question 'Where are you—' Gottlieb said in her sermon, "but he is also affirming his readiness to do God's will."


She has done the same.

Gottlieb, 29, was chosen rabbi in May ahead of the departure of Rabbi Andrew Goodman, who has returned to the world of academia. She expected to come to Temple Beth Israel from her native Toronto, Ontario, in July.

Getting here proved a bit complicated, however.

"In the past year or so," she said, "they changed the process for (foreign) clergy to work in the United States. The congregation had to go through a lengthy application process."

The OK didn't come until August; the rabbi finally crossed the border mid month, when she dove right in to High Holiday preparations.

Ordained in May, she welcomed the opportunity to serve the temple in Plattsburgh.

"I was very ready not to be in the big city anymore," she said. "Everybody is so welcoming — it's a really refreshing change.

"I like the small-town feel and the fresh air."

Temple Beth Israel is the only synagogue north of Glens Falls in New York state with a full-time rabbi, but Gottlieb will network with the rabbis who serve part-time.

"Luckily, I already know some of the regional rabbis," she said of those further south. "I have a pretty good system of support from school and family."

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