CONGREGATION CELEBRATES NEW RABBI
From The Bennington Banner, May 7, 2007
BENNINGTON — Members of the local Jewish community and those of other faiths participated Saturday in the public installation of Joshua Boettiger as the new rabbi of Congregation Beth El. The installation ceremony, the culmination of a special weekend of events, took place at the Bennington Museum, with about 150 people attending.
In his early 30s, Boettiger has been serving at Beth El for nine months, replacing Rabbi Howard Cohen. The great-grandson of Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt, he is a graduate of Bard College and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, Pa., from which he was ordained last June.
Born in Maine, he grew up in an interfaith household in Northampton, Mass., the son of an Episcopalian father and a Jewish mother. His parents let him choose his own spiritual path.
Boettiger first came to Bennington six years ago as a rabbinic intern. "Someone at the college in Philadelphia suggested that I contact Rabbi Howard Cohen because we were interested in similar things and he had this wonderful community," he told those present at the installation. Boettiger was extremely impressed when he met the community and felt a definite kinship with the town and the area.
"Essentially I said to myself and made this note: 'When I get ordained I would love to have a place like this.' And that's where I left it," he said. "And (there're) moments where you just need to get out of the way when poetry is trying to have its way with you. And so when the job came up, when Rabbi Cohen decided to move on ... it felt deeply appropriate."
Congregation Beth El was founded in 1909 when the Hebrew Congregation of Bennington was established. The synagogue is located at the corner of Adams and North street.
The Rev. Mary-Lee Clark, pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Bennington, was one of several local clergy present at the installation. "The Psalmist declares 'how very good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity,'" she said. "And how very good and pleasant it is to be here with you on this wonderful occasion to celebrate Joshua's coming into our midst as your rabbi and our colleague and brother."
Rabbi Yael Levy was Boettiger's spiritual guide and a mentor during his time in the seminary.
"Now I know I probably don't have to tell you how fortunate you are to have Joshua as your teacher and guide. I probably don't have to tell you what a treasure he is. But I will," she said. "Congregation Beth El, you are blessed with a rabbi who is such a beautiful soul. You are blessed with a rabbi who listens so deeply, who listens with his entire being and seeks constantly to act on love.
"You are blessed with a rabbi who is filled with devotion, who cares authentically, fully, always about the well being of others. You are blessed with a rabbi who is filled with light and who with gentleness, compassion and strength generously brings his light to everyone that he encounters," she said. " Rabbi Joshua Boettiger is a person dedicated to traveling deeply to what is most true and most real, and he does so with grace and with love."
Madeline Kunin, former governor of Vermont, came to Bennington to be part of the installation weekend.
"With a new young rabbi , an enthusiastic congregation, there's just a sense of excitement that I feel and that I'm sure that you feel," she said. "I think both the congregation and the rabbi deserve congratulations for making this great match and for taking the chance to go down a new road."
One reason people go to synagogue or to other houses of worship is to observe the benchmarks of life, such as births, weddings, and deaths, said Kunin, who is Jewish.
"We need community. We can't do this alone," she said. "We don't want to do this alone. We want to be surrounded by people we love and who love us and who we can communicate with and who understand us."
Rabbi Ira Stone, also leader of a congregation in Philadelphia, taught Boettiger in seminary. Stone himself was a student rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Bennington in the late 1970s.
"How does one become a rabbi ? Well, you have spent six or so years in the seminary studying and preparing, and I can tell you after some 30 years in the profession that those six years mean nothing," Stone said to Boettiger. "The education of the rabbi starts the moment those six years end, and that is a mutual responsibility between the rabbi and the rabbi 's community."
He told Boettiger that he was required to do the work necessary to make himself into a master teacher.
"Make yourself into a master teacher, be aware that every moment you are inhabiting is a teachable moment, and don't waste even one of those," Stone said. "And to the community: it isn't Joshua's responsibility alone to become a rabbi . It is ... the responsibility of the community to create along with him this master teacher."
"Far too many communities let themselves off the hook in this obligation. They think it's our job to make ourselves into teachers," Stone said. "But without the questions, without the interest, without the response, even the greatest of teachers has difficulty."
Carrie Green, vice president for development for Congregation Beth El, thanked Boettiger for accepting the community's offer to become the second Reconstructionist rabbi at the synagogue. Cohen, who served the congregation for 12 years, was the first.
According to the congregation's Web site, "Reconstructionists define Judaism as a religious civilization encompassing history, literature, art and music, land, and language.
"Belonging to the Jewish people comes before behaving or believing; through our shared past and through our communal experience of worship, study and celebration, we affirm our sense of belonging," it adds. "Our religious tradition is the reflection of our ancestors' search for meaning, purpose and value. In our own search, we are egalitarian, participatory, and open to varying viewpoints."
The installation ceremony ended with the Havdalah liturgy, which marks the end of the Shabbat, or Sabbath. The liturgy refers to separating the sacred from the ordinary, the sacred being the Shabbat and the ordinary being the rest of the week.
For the theme of the installation ceremony, Boettiger had chosen from the Havdalah liturgy the words, "I will trust and I will not be afraid."