Hes a rabbi in Tucson, but hes living in Israel

tucson, ariz. (ap) | A small Tucson congregation that went three years without a resident rabbi has finally hired one. The only thing is, Rabbi David Ebstein lives in Israel and has no plans to move.

“It is pretty unusual,” Ebstein said. “Most congregations want someone there all the time, but we’re going to see if this idea works.”

Members of Congregation Bet Shalom say technology, a good long-distance plan and frequent-flier miles allowed them to hire Ebstein. Ebstein will make three visits to Tucson each year, possibly more.

Weekly Saturday morning services at the synagogue are led by members, some of whom are highly educated in their faith, board member Ed Weller said.

“We’re looking into videoconferencing, which we now find is a lot simpler than we thought,” Weller said. “We’re just getting used to it, but the more we do it and the more Rabbi Ebstein does it, the more comfortable we become. It’s kind of growing on us.”

Costs and availability of Conservative rabbis were among obstacles the congregation of about 200 faced when it came to hiring a spiritual leader, Weller said. Since Ebstein will remain in Israel, the synagogue was able to hire him at a much-reduced salary, plus traveling expenses.

Synagogue newsletter editor and ritual committee member Lynn Saul thinks Ebstein’s location in Israel is an enormous advantage.

“He’s always available by e-mail or phone. Obviously technology makes it that much better,’ Saul said. “E-mail has changed the world. It gives an accessibility and an emotional bridge that can be crossed.”

Ebstein has corresponded by e-mail with members confronting difficult situations, such as a diagnosis of serious illness.

“We really feel so lucky to have this relationship with David. He’s a great asset to the situation,” said board member Richard Rich. “He’s a caring person who has taken us under his wing.”

Ebstein is a Chicago native and a 1988 graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children.