Rabbi Josh Weisman (left) and Rabbi Lisa Kingston will begin new senior rabbi positions at two Bay Area synagogues in July.
Rabbi Josh Weisman (left) and Rabbi Lisa Kingston will begin new senior rabbi positions at two Bay Area synagogues in July.

From steadying the ship to fighting climate change, new rabbis bring fresh perspectives to two Bay Area synagogues

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One took a traditional route to the pulpit and is a familiar face to congregants. The other followed a more winding path, through community organizing and co-founding a Jewish climate festival. Both are new senior rabbis of Bay Area shuls who promise to bring fresh enthusiasm to their posts starting July 1.

Rabbi Lisa Kingston, 39, will step up to the senior position at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo. Rabbi Josh Weisman, 43, will lead Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro.

Kingston has been associate rabbi and educator at the synagogue for nine years. She took a direct route to the rabbinate, and to PTBE; ordained from New York’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2013, she took the job at the Reform Peninsula congregation the same year. Innovating programs and assuming more responsibilities over time, she also showed her mettle through Covid challenges and leadership changes at the synagogue.

“My immediate goal is stability,” said Kingston, who replaces interim Rabbi Darryl Crystal, who has been filling in for former PTBE Rabbi Dennis Eisner after he announced plans to depart two years ago. Eisner is now director of institutional advancement at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto.

I want to make sure that our members know that they are not alone in our congregation.

Peninsula Temple Beth El has been in transition since Eisner’s announcement and the departure of Associate Rabbi Laura Rumpf, said congregation president Roxanne Cohen, adding, “During that time, Rabbi Lisa was the steady.”

In addition to her regular duties, the New York native helped guide the search for two associate rabbis, Rebecca Hecht and Genevieve Greinetz, both new to the area and the rabbinate, she noted. She intends to help integrate them into the synagogue community; they start on July 1.

Kingston’s long-term goal for the synagogue, which has over 700 member households, is to “shift people’s thinking about the framework of belonging — how members see themselves as an individual in the community and also feel responsible for others being connected.

“I’m thinking of a web analogy, not centered around an individual person like a rabbi or temple president. It sounds very lofty, but there are some practical ways to accomplish it,” she said.

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

For example, Kingston suggested that “smaller cohort groups” such as Jews of color, single parents or empty nesters can foster a sense of belonging.

“I want to make sure that our members know that they are not alone in our congregation,” she stated.

Cohen said Kingston’s focus on building relationships has been evident from the start: “People have felt that when she officiated at lifecycle events, through inclusive education programs, serving kids with special needs — all the real-life things.”

Weisman pursued a more circuitous route than Kingston to his first pulpit. The incoming spiritual leader of Temple Beth Sholom spent 10 years as a grassroots organizer before attending rabbinical school at the pluralistic Hebrew College in Massachusetts. After ordination in 2018, he became a rabbinic fellow at the Kavana Cooperative in Seattle; then lead educator at University of Washington Hillel; and most recently was senior program officer at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, focused on the East Bay, racial justice, diversity, equity and inclusion.

The exterior of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro. (Photo/Beth Zygielbaum)
The exterior of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro. (Photo/Beth Zygielbaum)

Weisman, who grew up in an unaffiliated Jewish household in Berkeley, had an independent bar mitzvah and attended Berkeley Midrasha as a teen. The pluralistic program offered “an amazing slate of electives,” he recalled. Basically, “you could choose your own adventure.”

“That experience was a key in forming who I am as a Jew and as a rabbi,” he said. “You need to meet people where they’re at.”

After college, Weisman focused on community building and especially valued his four years with the interfaith San Francisco Organizing Project: “We were empowering congregations to advocate for just solutions for problems impacting their communities and neighborhoods. It was a wonderful experience.

“That’s where I got the idea to become a rabbi. Working very closely with clergy, I saw what they do — community building, teaching, lifelong learning, pastoral care, really being there for people and providing organizational leadership.”

At his first rabbinical position, with the pluralistic Kavana Cooperative, Weisman co-founded the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. “We wanted to do something as a community about climate change,” he explained. “The idea was to hold a Tu B’Shevat event in the city with a few synagogues, and it just blossomed from there.” The festival drew multiple organizations, local politicians and nationally known speakers.

RELATED: 130-year-old San Leandro shul comes back from the brink

“People are worried about climate change and want to take action in a Jewish way,” Weisman said. “The goal is to make climate change one of the central moral priorities of the Jewish community.”

Beth Zygielbaum
Beth Zygielbaum

Weisman’s interest in climate action, pluralism and community fit Temple Beth Sholom’s goals and needs, according to TBS executive director Beth Zygielbaum. Topping the list: “establishing itself as a climate resilience hub for the community of San Leandro, participating in the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest, working to be certified as a green business, and now bringing on a well-connected rabbi who has a background in community organizing and climate work.”

Another plus: Weisman’s proven ability “working with students and young adults to create relevant and fun Jewish experiences and serving as a Jewish mentor,” Zygielbaum noted.

Weisman sees lots of potential in the congregation: “The community is growing, which is very exciting. Families are flocking to that part of the East Bay,” and Temple Beth Sholom “has seen a huge influx of families.” The synagogue has both preschool and afterschool programs.

A diverse, multigenerational community that is “deeply rooted” in the area (the shul was established in 1889), “they’ve got a lot of resources already and they are also growing and changing in innovative ways,” Weisman said. “I think there’s a lot of creative potential there in terms of education, social action. That is such a beautiful fit for me. I’m very excited to be taking that path.”

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.