New rabbi blends several traditions

What happens when a Reconstructionist rabbi takes to the pulpit of a synagogue affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative movements?

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer is about to find out.

Glazer is the newly appointed senior rabbi at San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Israel-Judea. She arrived in town just in time for High Holy Days services, which she will lead alongside Beth Israel-Judea’s new cantor, Ellen Schwab.

Just because Glazer is new to the synagogue doesn’t mean she intends to rearrange the furniture or redo the drapes. “You learn early on not to change things too fast,” she says, “but seek to understand how the community operates.”

Many years ago, Beth Israel-Judea was formed when two pre-existing congregations — one Reform, the other Conservative — merged. Since then, the new institution forged its own unique culture.

Even though ordained at the Reconstructionist seminary outside of Philadelphia, Glazer has had extensive professional contact with all streams of Judaism — much of it here in the Bay Area — and says her Reconstructionist orientation will help her adapt to Beth-Israel Judea.

“The Reconstructionst movement is very good at helping us understand how synagogues work as social systems,” she says. “Over time I may discoverer that the things that are sacred here are not so much about ‘the way it’s always been done,’ but the way they make people feel.”

One thing that won’t change for the upcoming holidays is the Beth Israel-Judea machzor (High Holy Days prayer book) written by the late Rabbi Herbert Morris. “It’s not Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or Renewal,” says Glazer. “It’s Herbert Morris.”

Glazer’s strong suit is her passion for klal Yisrael (Jewish community), and she hopes to bring to the congregation an enhanced sense of belonging.

“Jews are Jews,” she says. “They want a place to be comfortable where they are, find meaning, rise above the mundane life of every day, where life is treasured, and share from the depths of their hearts what really matters. As a rabbi, that’s what I’m interested in.”

She also has a long-standing connection to the Bay Area. A gifted singer, Glazer was a founding member of Vocolot, the women’s chorale formed by Linda Hirschhorn (cantor at San Leandro’s Temple Beth Sholom). She also served for several years as cantorial soloist and educator with Kehilla Community Synagogue in the East Bay.

But she began life in New York. Glazer counts her childhood days in her grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment as a formative Yiddishkeit experience.

But there were others. Two years living in Israel as a child, active membership in the youth Zionist organization Young Judea and a passion for Jewish/Israeli culture all helped form Glazer’s Jewish identity.

While studying for a master’s degree in physical therapy at San Francisco State, Glazer joined Vocolot. Shortly thereafter she began her work with Kehilla, as well as serving as an interfaith hospital chaplain. These experiences triggered a desire to join the rabbinate. After five years of study, Glazer was ordained in 2003. Finding the right congregational fit took awhile, but now Glazer is ready to start this next chapter in her life.

The synagogue’s previous rabbi Evan Goodman had been at Beth Israel-Judea for seven years, and Glazer knows she has some big shoes to fill.

“It’s a challenge,” she says. “Building consensus is the hardest thing. You spend a lot of time with a lot of people, and make a lot of mistakes. In the process of meeting people and getting to know what they like you discover together and experiment together.”

Fortunately, after so many years in the region, Glazer understands the unique qualities of the Bay Area Jewish community. “It’s very creative, very iconoclastic, very connected to the earth,” she says. “And it allows for some blending and borrowing from different spiritual traditions.”

That’s probably what will unfold during her High Holy Days debut at Beth Israel-Judea. And though the holidays are a significant moment on the Jewish calendar, Glazer looks forward to the many days, and years, to follow.

“An institutions is a structure,” she says, “but it holds the spirit, the emotions. It needs the edifice, the administration and the leaders, but it’s all about the heart, the mind, the soul.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.