New Keddem rabbi high jumps right into High Holy Days

Rabbi Elisheva Salamo has been at Palo Alto’s Keddem Congregation only a short time, but she already has a plan to get to know every member of the synagogue.

“I’m going to have lunch or dinner with everybody within the next year and attend every committee meeting I can,” says Salamo, who was hired by the Reconstruc-tionist synagogue last month after Rabbi David Levinsky left to join the Taube Center for Jewish Life at the JCC of San Francisco.

“I think the most important thing is that I know what the congregation is all about.”

But all that, plus an official installation, has been put on hold as she prepares to lead the congregation during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.

Upcoming practice sessions will give Salamo an opportunity to chat with participants about Keddem’s High Holy Days traditions — such as the inclusion of feminist and egalitarian language, and special readings to mix in with traditional liturgy.

A San Francisco native who spent portions of her childhood at Brandeis Hillel Day School and at Congregation Emanu-El, Salamo says “it’s so exciting” to use language that is different than what most other synagogues use.

A former programs manager for the JCCSF, Salamo arrived at Keddem well-versed in a radical, modern style of Judaism, having spent the last nine years as the rabbi at Reconstructionist Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati.

“It’s pretty fun to have [a branch of Judaism] that really reflects the values of the community,” says Salamo, who lives in Palo Alto with her husband and 4-year-old daughter. “We have the opportunity for us to work together, teach each other and forge our relationship from there.”

In addition to prepping for the High Holy Days, Salamo has been working with congregants to develop “robust and creative” programming for children, a task that takes on personal meaning because of her daughter.

As for adult education, Salamo notes the synagogue already has a strong foundation in terms of curriculum, which makes it an ideal environment to formulate new programs — and to have a little fun, too.

“I love when someone asks me about a Hebrew [word] root during a conversation,” Salamo says. “I’m really looking forward to teaching and learning with members, and getting more people immersed in Torah study. There’s a lot going on.”

She cites an example, a film series followed by a facilitated dialogue planned for Selichot. She adds that the evening will highlight aspects of the Israel- Palestinian conflict and create a safe space where people can express their opinions, listen to each other and “come together to understand a very difficult, yet meaningful topic.”

Salamo graduated from liberal Reed College in Portland, Ore., with a degree in biology and went on to earn a Ph.D. in cellular biology from Yale University.

But religion could take a backseat only for so long.

“I realized that if I wanted to live in a good Jewish community and work in a good Jewish community, it would be tough to continue with biology,” she says.

So Salamo applied to rabbinical schools, and when she was accepted to Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa., she took it as a sign.

“Being a rabbi has been the most fabulous experience,” she says. “I get paid to love people, and what thing could be greater than that?”