|Oklahoma City pulpit to be Rabbi Harris’ new home|
|Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor|
|Thursday, April 19 2012 11:00|
Rabbi Vered Harris, Congregation Beth Torah’s education rabbi, will become the pulpit rabbi of Congregation Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City on July 1. Rabbi Harris informed the congregation in the summer of 2011 that she would be making a change.
Last month Beth Torah announced the hiring of Rebecca Reice, who will be ordained in May, as the congregation’s new education rabbi.
Rabbi Harris came to Beth Torah in the summer of 2000, immediately following her ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. She also earned her Master of Arts degree in Jewish education in 1998 from the Rhea Hirsch School of Education, and was awarded the title of Reform Jewish Educator in 2002.
Temple B’nai Israel is a Reform congregation with approximately 300 households. It is the only Reform congregation in Oklahoma City and is the larger of the two synagogues in town.
“It is a warm and inviting congregation, with a dedicated staff and friendly, enthusiastic, volunteer-minded membership. Their invitation to elect me as their next spiritual leader is an honor, and I look forward to the challenges and blessings to come,” Rabbi Harris said when the news became official last month.
Beth Torah’s Rabbi Mark Levin said Rabbi Harris has been at the congregation for more than half its life and made an “inestimable contribution” to it as well as the larger Kansas City Jewish community.
“She will be missed greatly, but we are very pleased to see her move on to being able to lead a congregation and bring all her many talents to another Jewish community,” Rabbi Levin said.
Oklahoma City’s B’nai Israel, which was founded in 1903, is a congregation that has had steady rabbinical leadership. Rabbi Harris will be only the fifth rabbi in the congregation’s history, and in its first 100 years the congregation had just three rabbis serving it with no lapse in rabbinical leadership.
“Their tradition of long tenures reflects the stability of the congregation and their history of healthy relations with the rabbi,” Rabbi Harris said.
Serving as the congregation’s only rabbi will be a new experience for Rabbi Harris, and one she is looking forward to.
“I’ll get to have more one-on-one relationships based on congregants’ varied interests and spiritual journeys, as well as do more pastoral counseling and life-cycle events,” she explained.
“I’m looking forward to more interfaith work, to being present in the larger faith and secular communities as a voice of Judaism, to exploring the social justice and educational opportunities in a new city, to getting to lead services and lead the religious cycle of a congregation … lots of rabbinical “fun stuff” that is different than what I’ve done at Beth Torah,” the rabbi continued.
As Beth Torah’s education rabbi, her schedule revolved around midweek Hebrew school, TAG for older students and religious school on Sunday. Her new position will bring with it a shift in her priorities.
“I’m looking forward to the rhythm of Shabbat and readjusting so that my calendar is more centered around Shabbat, life-cycle and pastoral care,” Rabbi Harris said.
While the rabbi usually has a say in the educational life of her congregation, Rabbi Harris will no longer be making curricular or faculty decisions at Temple B’nai Israel. In fact, B’nai Israel has two educators on staff. One is a part-time midweek Hebrew school director. The other is the full-time director of the Inter-Congregational Sunday School, a joint effort of B’nai Israel and the Conservative Emanuel Synagogue.
“One of the many fun connections between the Kansas City and Oklahoma City Jewish communities is that before she went to rabbinical school Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner (assistant rabbi at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah) served as the educator in Oklahoma City who first brought together the synagogue and the temple for the ICSS,” Rabbi Harris noted.
Rabbi Harris said it is very bittersweet for her family — she and husband Benjamin have three daughters — to leave Beth Torah and the Kansas City Jewish community.
“The fact that all three of our girls were born here gives us ties to the community in a way that we never could have anticipated. We are surrounded by people who have watched our daughters grow, who love our children and who have helped us to raise them. That’s really hard to lose,” she said.
Rabbi Harris is no stranger to moving and in her lifetime has lived in California, Israel, Germany and Ohio before settling in Kansas. So she is excited for her children to experience things people learn by moving.
“I learned a lot from the moves that I had to make. I think it contributed to my resiliency as an adult and to me having a wider perspective on the world. I’m very excited for them to see the world through different eyes. It will be great for them to make new friends and to learn what they can do in a new setting. But it’s tough. It’s exciting and challenging at the same time,” Rabbi Harris said.
She is grateful that the Harris family has already been welcomed by B’nai Israel with open arms.
“Each of the older girls has already met somebody who will be in their grade in their new schools. They’ve already met adults who have embraced them and welcomed them. While we’re leaving an amazing community here, we also feel like we are walking into arms wide open, welcoming our family,” she said.
Say shalom to Rabbi Harris
Congregation Beth Torah is planning a weekend of events Friday and Saturday, June 1 and 2, to give the congregation and the community the chance to wish Rabbi Vered Harris luck in her new position in Oklahoma City.
Festivities begin at 6 p.m. erev Shabbat, June 1, with a nosh honoring Rabbi Harris. It will be sponsored by the Beth Torah board of trustees. Shabbat worship services follow at 6:30 p.m. and the celebration will continue with the Oneg following worship.
To honor Rabbi Harris, a special poetry collection in the Beth Torah library will be created. Donations are needed to help stock the shelves with poetry books. Checks should be made out to Congregation Beth Torah; note that the donation is for the poetry collection.