Rabbis Ted Feldman (left) and Katie Mizrahi (right) are moving on from current posts, while Rabbi Amanda Russell (center) has been promoted.
Rabbis Ted Feldman (left) and Katie Mizrahi (right) are moving on from current posts, while Rabbi Amanda Russell (center) has been promoted.

Rabbis on the move: departures and promotions across the Bay Area

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It’s been a season of change for Bay Area synagogues.

In mid-March, San Francisco’s largest shul, Congregation Emanu-El, announced its co-senior rabbis would be stepping down after about a decade in their roles. Less than a week later, Rabbi Dan Ain of San Francisco’s Beth Sholom abruptly announced his departure after four years leading the Conservative shul.

The trend continues this month.

On April 18, B’nai Israel Jewish Center, “California’s oldest congregation north of San Francisco,” according to the Conservative shul, announced Rabbi Ted Feldman would be retiring after 17 years.

The news was delivered with “profound sadness” by shul president Stuart Nissenbaum in a press release: “For many of us it’s been an amazing journey with Rabbi Feldman, who has named our children, led their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, supported us in illness and health, and helped us bury our beloved friends and family,” Nissenbaum said. “For 17 years he has been our spiritual and communal leader, our mentor, our pastoral counselor, guiding us through many challenging times, always carrying himself with grace and dignity.”

Rabbi Ted Feldman speaking during B'nai Israel Jewish Center's 150th anniversary gala, Nov. 1, 2014.
Rabbi Ted Feldman speaking during B’nai Israel Jewish Center’s 150th anniversary gala, Nov. 1, 2014.

Feldman has established himself as a pillar in the Sonoma County Jewish community since taking the role of rabbi in 2005, after 10 years leading the nonprofit Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay. Ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Feldman was heavily involved with interfaith efforts in Sonoma County, and he argued on behalf of inclusion for intermarried households in the Conservative movement, co-authoring the book “A Place in the Tent” on the subject.

Feldman also delighted the community with his local radio show, “Talking with Rabbi Ted,” on KPCA Petaluma.

“He’s always curious, always learning, teaching, and laughing,” Nissenbaum added.

“Please know that I will continue to be involved in the Petaluma community,” Feldman said in announcing his retirement, “and in helping to ensure that the Jewish population of our city will be standing with all other citizens to strive for our mutual benefit.”

A retirement dinner is planned for June 5. For more information, contact [email protected].

In San Francisco, the city’s only Reconstructionist synagogue announced its spiritual leader, Rabbi Katie Mizrahi, would be stepping down after 15 years. She will be moving to Denver with her husband and two children to serve as a rabbi at Congregation B’nai Havurah, with which she has close family ties.

“It has been a deep blessing to lead Or Shalom these many years and I love the people I’ve connected with here,” Mizrahi said in a statement, calling the Or Shalom community “authentic, joyful, radically inclusive, and spiritually vibrant.”

Rabbi Katie Mizrahi (Photo/Shae Hancock)
Rabbi Katie Mizrahi (Photo/Shae Hancock)

“I have grown so much along with this group of kindred spirits, and I leave with a lot of love in my heart for them,” she added.

Since joining the congregation in 2007, only two years after her rabbinic ordination, Mizrahi, or Rabbi Katie as she is often called, established herself as a collaborative leader and an inventive one: She spearheaded unique small-group programs for congregants, such as the Considering God Salon, the News Minyan, Embodied Spiritual Practice and the Israel-Palestine Year of Inquiry, among others.

“Her rare combination of intellectual rigor, musicality, and warm open-heartedness will be missed,” Or Shalom said in a statement, adding that the shul was “working with the Reconstructionist movement” to find Mizrahi’s replacement.

“As the pandemic lifts, so many organizations will be experiencing a time of rebirth and rebuilding,” Mizrahi said. “My departure is part of a bigger story of transition and change, and I am confident that Or Shalom will attract a fabulous new rabbi as this next chapter unfolds.”

Also in San Francisco, Beth Sholom announced it would be promoting Rabbi Amanda Russell to the top position, making her the first woman rabbi to lead the Conservative congregation.

Rabbi Amanda Russell
Rabbi Amanda Russell

Russell, a Philadelphia native, was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, and started with Beth Sholom as an intern roughly eight years ago. She was named assistant rabbi after she was ordained, and was promoted to associate rabbi last year.

“Her enthusiasm, passion for prayer and education, and her ruach [spirit] have been instrumental in keeping our congregants connected and involved, even during the pandemic,” board president Michael Rapaport said in a statement.

“We are thrilled that Rabbi Russell will serve as our lead rabbi and that she will have the opportunity to build on the many wonderful programs she has begun for youth, young adults, new parents and those interested in converting to Judaism,” Rapaport added. “We are also proud that Beth Sholom, for the first time in our rich history, will be led by a woman rabbi.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.