Reform Jewish congregation, Bet Aviv in Columbia, Maryland, will welcome Rabbi Linda Joseph as its new spiritual leader on July 1, with Joseph holding her first service with the congregation on July 26.
Early this month, Bet Aviv paid tribute to its retiring leader, Rabbi Seth Bernstein and his wife Marsha. At age 70, Bernstein has been in the rabbinate for 40 years, serving Bet Aviv for the past eight. During his career he focused on pastoral counseling and “disaster” chaplaincy, offering spiritual healing to people in Lower Manhattan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York, among other places. His final Shabbat service will be held on June 28.
Joseph will begin her position at Bet Aviv after spending the past two years with Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills. Bet Aviv worships together every other week, and Joseph said switching her commitment from full-time to part-time will allow her to balance work and life, including spending more time with her family and on creative pursuits.
“My husband is retired and I’ve worked 25 years in the rabbinate now full-time, doing 60 to 80-hour weeks,” Joseph said. “He said to me, ‘You need to spend some time with me.’ Then there are things I adore doing that as a full-time rabbi I’ve not been able to get to as much: my art; my writing. It seemed to be an opportunity to go back to my roots in creativity and Jewish creativity.”
Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills was founded in 1842, and these days is the place of worship for many young families with children. However, Bet Aviv, founded in 1997, caters specifically to an adult membership offering adult Jewish education.
“The congregation itself, in its description of what it was looking for in a rabbi, put an emphasis on the things that I’m most passionate about in the rabbinate,” Joseph said. “Leading services, education and pastoral counseling. It seemed like it would be a good match.”
Like Joseph, Bernstein served at a shul founded in the 1800s before starting at Bet Aviv in 2011. Serving at a new congregation, he said, allowed for new ideas for worship to formulate among congregants and leadership.
“I understand places with long standing traditions, but one of the things about Bet Aviv is that you can’t say ‘We’ve always done it that way,’” Bernstein said. “It’s new, it’s fresh and we’re very open to building up the best things for the congregation.”
Although Bernstein is retiring, he will still teach Monday courses at the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion in New York as part of the Doctor of Ministry Program. He will also continue serving as chair of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Board of Appeals.
“It was a great run,” Berstein said of his time at Bet Aviv. “It’s been an absolute blessing.”
Joseph, who lives in Reisterstown, said she is not leaving the Baltimore Jewish community. In addition to joining the Howard County Board of Rabbis, Joseph will continue to serve on the Baltimore Board of Rabbis as the coordinator for introduction to Judaism next year. As for her commitments to Bet Aviv and the Howard County Jewish community, Joseph plans to have a very productive summer.
“I’ll be spending the summer getting coffee with congregants, meeting different congregations in Howard County, setting up High Holidays and adult education,” she said. “It’ll be a big planning summer and I’m excited for the new opportunity.”