New beginnings: Rabbi Boettiger brings radical welcoming to Ashland temple

by Deborah Moon

Ashland’s Temple Emek Shalom has hired Rabbi Joshua Boettiger as the congregation’s new rabbi effective Aug. 1.

“This past year was one of transition for the congregation, but we see 2012/2013 as a year of exciting new beginnings,” says TES President Michael Schames, who took office July 1. “As a congregation, we are extraordinarily excited about Rabbi Boettiger’s leadership and the next phase of our congregation’s life. All who have met Rabbi Boettiger are encouraged by his genuine warmth, intellect and insights.”

For the past six years, Boettiger has served as rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Bennington, VT. He replaces Rabbi Marc Sirinsky, who retired last year after 18 years as TES rabbi, and will work with cantorial soloist Bella Feldman. Boettiger recently moved to Ashland with his wife, Vanessa, and 9-month-old daughter, Paloma.

Located in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon, Temple Emek Shalom was founded in 1979 and constructed its “beautiful temple building” in 2002. According to the Temple history provided by the rabbi search committee, “The congregation has been described by some as post-denominational, serving the needs of a diverse community. … Our Temple is totally egalitarian and leans toward traditional in its practice.”

In a personal statement on his rabbinate, Boettiger notes that “my primary role and intention as a congregational rabbi is to lead in the creation of a genuinely welcoming community. … My philosophy so far – no doubt partially informed by having been raised in an interfaith family – has been to try to practice radical welcoming. … Once people feel that they belong, something opens in their hearts and everything else is made possible.”

Boettiger says he spent formative years in Israel before and after college. He notes that in Vermont, “I have tried to lead our community to deepen its relationship with Israel, whatever each individual’s political leanings.”

He has been very active in interfaith work. He chaired an interfaith council, co-taught a class for teens with a Catholic priest, ran programs that allowed Muslim exchange students to interact with Jewish teens, and established an interfaith psalms study group. As an undergraduate, he spent a semester studying Arabic in Damascus.

“My family and I are excited to be coming to Oregon – particularly to Ashland,” says Boettiger. “Visiting here, we felt an immediate kinship with the Temple Emek Shalom community – a recognition from a kishkes (gut-level) place – and we look forward to settling into life here. Vermont has a kind of East Coast Oregon spirit to it, but I’m looking forward to really getting to explore our new environs and to being in relationship with the larger Jewish community here in the state.”

Schames says the congregation recognizes its new rabbi will bring different insights and approaches to the congregation. “It is important for us as a congregation to embrace our new rabbi and the different perspectives, services and style he will bring. Clearly, we feel that we have a distinct responsibility and a very large stake in this relationship,” says Schames.

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