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"We Need Experiences That Fill People's Souls"

Rabbi Stacy Offner is the new rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison. Here she talks about building community, her calling, and the importance of social justice.

 

By Liz Rubin

Even as a teenager, Rabbi Stacy Offner understood the importance of community.  As a young woman in her synagogue youth group, she learned about community and a sense of holiness. Now, as the new rabbi of Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, she hopes to build upon and strengthen the sense of community in the congregation.  “I would like people to feel that their life would be missing something or feel empty without the richness of Temple Beth Tikvah. We need experiences that fill people’s souls.”

 Building community has been a common thread throughout Rabbi Offner’s life.  She was born and raised in East Meadow, then Great Neck, New York, and was inspired to become a rabbi at a very young age in particular by her own rabbi’s commitment to social justice. Her youth group experience also provided many opportunities for learning. “My youth advisor was a great scholar who sent me text, and I ate them up!” 

Rabbi Offner graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio followed by rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College    At that time, there were not many women at Hebrew Union preparing to become rabbis, yet this never influenced her career decision. “In high school when I decided to become a rabbi, I didn’t know that there weren’t any female rabbis. I grew up in a family and community where I was taught that I could be whatever I wanted to be.”

Continuing her journey after rabbinical school, Rabbi Offner moved to Minnesota. Initially, she believed she would be there for only a short time, but stayed for twenty five years. “Where you plant yourself, things unfold.”, and unfold they did, indeed. From 1984 to 1988, she served as Assistant/Associate Rabbi at Mt. Zion Temple, St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1988 she became the founding rabbi of Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis. Rabbi Offner fondly remembered the genesis of this new congregation.  It was an idea that began with, ““as many people that could fit into a luncheonette booth at a pizza parlor”.  Rabbi Offner called Shir Tikvah home for twenty years, and in 2008 she accepted a position at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) in New York.  Upon leaving, Rabbi Offner helped Shir Tikvah expand its membership to 400 households and became Shir Tikvah’s Founding Rabbi Emerita.

In her new role, Rabbi Offner found herself breaking new ground once again as the first female congregational rabbi at the URJ.  The URJ serves as the umbrella organization representing Reform congregations across North America. After two years, Rabbi Offner returned to the bimah, and until recently served as an interim rabbi at Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.  When asked why she decided to return to synagogue life in 2010, Rabbi Offner said, “The synagogue is where Jewish life happens. I missed leading a congregation every single day I was away from it. It is the heart and soul of Jewish life. I am so glad to be back on the bimah and in the midst of a congregational community.”

Aside from a rich spiritual life, Rabbi Offner enjoys time with her close knit family.  She will be joined in Connecticut by her partner of almost 25 years, Nancy Abramson.  Their daughter Jill Abramson is the Senior Cantor at Westchester Reform Temple, and is married to Rabbi John Malamy. Their son Charlie Abramson is completing his third year of residency in emergency medicine in Chicago. They are also the proud grandparents of one year old Eli Malamy.  For fun and relaxation, Rabbi Offner enjoys hiking, cycling, reading, and yoga, as well as talking and coffee.  Her favorite place to travel is to Israel. “I love being in Israel and sharing Israel.”

At Temple Beth Tikvah, Rabbi Offner is looking forward to being “engaged in holy community. The opportunity to teach, lead and engage with thoughtful  people who are seeking meaning and striving to live good lives.”  She also gets a strong sense that people identify with being a part of the shoreline community. “It’s part of what is important to me as a rabbi that we are engaged in community life. Life is not about being a private individual but about sharing and caring. This does not end with the synagogue walls.  It’s about where you live, your neighborhood and your neighbors.” 

It seems that the lesson’s of Rabbi Offner’s youth, her inspiring professional accomplishments and the strength of family and community have come full circle, and she gratefully reflects  “I feel blessed that my life and my work are in such great alignment.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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