City of Roses: Rabbi Joshua Rose carries on family tradition

The Rose family has included rabbis for more than 10 generations, and now there’s a second Rabbi Rose in Portland. Rabbi Joshua Rose returned to Portland in July to assume spiritual leadership of Congregation Shaarie Torah, about a dozen blocks from the congregation his father, Rabbi Emanuel Rose, led from 1960 to 2006. The elder Rose remains rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel.

“He is incredibly talented,” says the senior Rabbi Rose of his son. “He’s a marvelous speaker with a wonderful sense of humor.”

Rabbi Joshua Rose didn’t always intend to follow in his father’s footsteps. He received a degree in European and American history at Occidental College in Los Angeles and moved to Washington, D.C., to work in public policy with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

He received a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and then taught at Oregon Episcopal School for three years.

“We were surprised when he decided to go to rabbinic school,” says his mother Lorraine Rose, noting he told his three sisters of his decision before telling his parents. “We are pleased he is carrying on the family tradition.”

He was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2007. He served Congregation Har Hashem in Boulder, CO, from 2007 until returning to his native Portland this summer.

“When I grew up, there was my dad (Rabbi Emanuel Rose), Rabbi (Joshua) Stampfer and Rabbi (Yonah) Geller (z’l),”says Rabbi Rose. “I knew Rabbi Stampfer and Rabbi Geller as people involved in the Jewish community and as people my father respected.”

In fact, Rabbis Rose, Stampfer and Geller were long the religious foundation of Portland, with each serving their respective congregations more than 40 years.

The story of their collaborative, mutually respectful, trans-denominational efforts is chronicled in the OPB film “The Three Rabbis.” A video cassette of that documentary sits on the bookshelf of Rabbi Joshua Rose’s new office at Shaarie Torah, though he quips he doesn’t have a VCR to watch it again.

When he was young, he says Congregation Shaarie Torah was a proud and strong community under the leadership of Rabbi Geller, “a great mensch.”

Returning to Shaarie Torah, Rabbi Rose says he was moved by two things: “What a beautiful, warm, hamish community this is. It has a beautiful spark and a radiant warmth. The other thing I was moved by was the energy of the leadership to embrace the possibility of the future – a way to take the best of Shaarie Torah’s past and connect to Shaarie Torah’s future.”

In an interview six weeks after his arrival, Rabbi Rose shared his impressions of the congregation and his plans for that future.

“There’s a great diversity of Jewish spirituality here,” he says. “People are living Jewishly in a lot of different ways.”

He says his greatest challenge at Shaarie Torah will be the same challenge facing a lot of Jewish organizations and shuls: “How to address the Jewish future in a vibrant, creative and meaningful way that is authentically connected to Jewish tradition.”

He calls the need “to engage people where they are” a wonderful, exciting challenge “that will force us as a synagogue to be courageous as we meet that challenge.”

On a practical level, he says, “How do you find in Jewish customs and halachah Jewish experiences that will resonate with people in the present?”

“Portland is blessed to have a lot of very gifted Jewish leaders who have been looking for creative answers, so I feel lucky to be walking hand in hand with other great leaders trying to address the same questions I’m trying to address.”

One concrete step he plans to take is to explore the expansion of kabbalat Shabbat at the Conservative synagogue. Currently Shaarie Torah holds a short Friday evening service followed by dinner one Friday evening a month.

He is also engaging in conversations with members about “who we are and who we want to become” and seeking ways to draw more people into congregational life.

Meanwhile, he is integrating into both the Jewish and general communities of Portland.

He and his wife Channah, a lawyer, have three sons, Eliav, 6, Akiva, 4, and Rafael, 3. The older boys attend Portland Jewish Academy, and Rafael attends the Carl Preschool at Shaarie Torah.

The senior Rabbi Rose says that while he may be a little prejudiced, he believes it is objectively true that “Portland is a very lucky city to have him. He’s going to do wonders here.

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