Alameda rabbi to be Stanfords first Jewish chaplain

It was a rough job interview for a rabbi.

Patricia Karlin-Neumann had to preach from the altar of Stanford University's cavernous, mosaicked Memorial Church. To a room full of Christians. On St. Patrick's Day.

She wore green, joked about her Irish-sounding first name, discussed the liturgy from a Jewish perspective — and got a job. Next fall, Karlin-Neumann will make history by becoming Stanford's first Jewish chaplain.

After more than 100 years of Christian chaplains, Stanford has made a few adjustments to accommodate a rabbi, the first of which was changing the position's official title from "Associate Dean of Memorial Church" to "Associate Dean of Religious Life at Stanford."

As one of three such deans on campus, Karlin-Neumann will counsel students, faculty and staff; intervene on ethical and religious matters; teach; participate in rituals on campus and preach from the sandstone church where she first made her mark.

"There really is an understanding that it's time for there to be a rabbinic voice represented in the life of the university. It's exciting," says Karlin-Neumann, who for the last five years has been spiritual leader of Alameda's Temple Israel.

Early in her career, she was a Hillel rabbi, serving for 11 years at campuses including UCLA and Princeton. She's returning to university life, she says, because of "the pleasure of living in a world of ideas."

The last decade at Stanford has seen a surge of interest in Jewish ideas and culture, she notes.

In the last few years, the university's dorms have begun providing kosher meal plans; Hillel services on campus have attracted thousands of Jews during High Holy Days; and a Jewish studies program has blossomed into one of the best in the country.

"Stanford has long recognized the importance of multiculturalism. But it has taken some time for Stanford to realize that Jews, too, have a place on this multicultural map," says Steven Zipperstein, director of the Jewish studies program and professor of Jewish culture and history.

The appointment of a Jewish chaplain represents a "courageous turning point in Stanford's relationship with Jews," says Zipperstein.

In his search for new chaplains, Chapel Memorial Church Dean Robert Gregg specifically kept an eye open for non-Christian candidates.

"Stanford is a multifaith place, and has been for decades," said Gregg, "so I regard having a rabbi as a paid university chaplain as a reality that is long overdue."

The dean describes Karlin-Neumann as "perfectly equipped to help the religious professionals, faculty and staff here come to a deeper understanding of Judaism."

Because Gregg was intending to hire only two chaplains instead of three, Karlin-Neumann will work part time next year, with a contract as a full-time chaplain for the following two years.

She will round out her schedule as interim director of the regional branch of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Serious about her role as the Stanford administration's first official Jewish voice, Karlin-Neumann maintains a humorous outlook on being a rabbi among ministers. During an interview with Gregg, she says she joked about preaching at the church Stanford students have long called "Mem Chu."

"I had this twinkling in my eyes and I said to him, `I have a title: Mem Chu and a Jew, too.'"