Rabbi Ruthie joins Summit Synagogue
After a weekend of welcoming, Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb, a part-time Rabbi with Boulder-based Congregation Har HaShem will step up as the new Rabbi for Synagogue of the Summit.
“It’s a really diverse and interesting Jewish community,” Gelfarb said. “You have people from lots of different Jewish backgrounds who come to Summit.”
Gelfarb added that the synagogue was in a unique position to benefit from the diversity of those who attend. For example, seasonal visitors bring their own ideas and experiences.
“It’s fertilizing new and interesting ideas from the Jewish world around the country in addition to what’s here,” Gelfarb said. “It’s a very bright community.”
Gelfarb grew up in New York, later moving out to Chicago for her continued studies and service. But at the beginning, she never considered being a Rabbi.
“Originally, I avoided it for many years because I thought Rabbis were old men with long beards,” Gelfarb laughed. “But one of the things I’m drawn to is, what does it mean to live an ethical, good life? … I love teaching, providing pastoral care to people and being in the community.”
Gelfarb received her B.A. with honors from Harvard University and her Rabbinic Ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She later spent a year in Jerusalem at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, reading and reviewing ancient texts and law.
During that time, Gelfarb studied the Mishnah, dating from 200-400 C.E., and the Talmud, dating from 400–600 C.E.
“When you study the ancient text, you realize there are always two Jews, three opinions. In those texts, they always record the voices of the minority,” Gelfarb said. “You realize there’s always another perspective that needs to be lifted up and thought about, even if it’s not the way you go.”
Later on, Gelfarb worked with the American Jewish World Service, living in Mexico for a year and spending time in El Salvador and Guatemala. She also started an interfaith immigration network in metro Chicago.
“Those kinds of social justice issues mean a lot to me,” Gelfarb said.
Before she began her work at Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder, Gelfarb worked with college students at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. She hopes to apply her past experiences, as well as her understanding of the Spanish language, to her work with Summit County.
“You realize Rabbis and Jewish communities have always been creative, that’s why it’s been around for 500 years. It’s adaptive,” Gelfarb said. “For me, it’s how to make teaching in Summit County adaptive, while holding on to tradition.”
Gelfarb has several activities and classes planned to engage with the county’s Jewish community. As a part-time Rabbi, she will drive up to teach every other month, as well as participating in the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September.
On Saturdays, for Shabbat, Gelfarb will plan a service including an outdoor activity, such as a hike or bike ride, and a short service, reading or meditation.
“I feel really, really fortunate to be over the Sabbath at a place that’s so beautiful,” Gelfarb said. “Over Shabbat week, we celebrate creation and it’s all over the place.”
Gelfarb also has plans for a children’s story hour in October, and will offer classes for adults, including one on the music of Leonard Cohen, who’s Orthodox Jewish background influenced his lyrics, and another on the tradition of magic in Judaism, in addition to regular Friday services.
“I want to get to know the people who are presently part of the synagogue with the Summit community,” Gelfarb. “I also hope to provide certain pastoral needs, from to people who are sick to children who want to have a bat mitzvah to comforting the bereaved.”
With six years of study behind her, Rabbi “Ruthie” is still focused on relationships, and building connections with the community.
“It’s not to be an academic that’s cold and dry, it’s about issues of the soul, meaning and purpose in life,” Gelfarb said. “I think in the end, the fact that I don’t have a long beard and am not an old man, has made me much more welcoming … the community looks a lot different than people might have thought.”
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