Reconstructionist rabbi takes over at Or Shalom

When Katie Mizrahi took a year off from Stanford after a “spiritual awakening,” she moved back to Boulder, Colo., and was a gardener, woodworker and a drummer for a rock band. Once she returned to Stanford she realized there was no need to rush her career plans.

She was going to become a rabbi at her own pace.

San Francisco congregation Or Shalom welcomes Mizrahi as their new rabbi this month. And Mizrahi seems to be the perfect match for the music-loving congregation.

“Being a rabbi is one of the last vocations that really is a jack-of-all-trades, ” she said.

Until 2004, Rabbi Pamela Frydman Baugh had been the rabbi at Or Shalom. Since then, Or Shalom had a short-term rabbi and slew of temporary and interim rabbis. Or Shalom is not affiliated with the Reconstructionist movement, but selected Reconstructionist rabbi Mizrahi because it felt that she was aligned with its values.

The Reconstructionist movement, founded in 1930 by Mordecai Kaplan, is based on the idea that Judaism evolves and embraces progressive, humanistic values.

Mizrahi, born in New Jersey, was raised in the Reform tradition in Boulder. She discovered Reconstructionism while writing her thesis in college. She ultimately realized that she wanted to be rabbi, and her advisor, Arnie Eisen, steered her in the direction of rabbinical school.

Mizrahi worked as a sabbatical rabbi at New York City’s West End Synagogue and a rabbinic fellow at B’nai Jeshurun, also in New York, before coming to Or Shalom.

She graduated from Stanford in 1997 and from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in 2005.

After her stint at RRC, Mizrahi spent two years in Israel engaged in intensive study, service learning and working as a visiting rabbi.

She returned to Israel in 2006 during the war with Lebanon to work as a rabbi, an experience that “changed my understanding of war in general, and the vulnerability of Israel, she said.

Mizrahi is happy to be back to the Bay Area, which she finds less “frantic” than New York.

One of her goals for Or Shalom, besides integrating her musical background and improving adult education, is revitalizing the idea of prayer.

“I really believe prayer is not a spectator sport, she said. “When I’m leading a service, my goal is to engage people — not to do it for them, but help them engage their hearts their minds, and even their bodies, in holiness and meaning. “

Mizrahi believes that the mantra of Rabbi Richard Hirsch, her former teacher and head of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, will hold true for how she wants congregants to think of her.

“They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”