Rabbi Moti Rieber ('04) quickly takes reins as interim in Topeka | Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Moti Rieber ('04) quickly takes reins as interim in Topeka

News

by Mike Sherry

Originally published in The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle on Dec. 3, 2020

Rabbi Moti Rieber invited members of Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka to join him for a pandemic-safe Sukkot.

Rabbi Moti Rieber invited members of Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka to join him for a pandemic-safe Sukkot.

As most congregations can attest, it was hard enough preparing a virtual experience during the High Holidays this year. But try doing it with a temporary spiritual leader who has been on the job for only a matter of weeks.

That was exactly the situation at Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka. Congregation president, Alan Parker, said the experience turned out fantastically thanks in large part to interim rabbi, Moti Rieber, who lives and worships in Overland Park. 

With the synagogue in such flux, Beth Sholom figured it would probably be only able to hold two or three of the five High Holiday services themselves. 

“And then we engaged Moti. From the get-go he said, ‘I really would like us to do all the services,’” Parker said. He laughed. “We are not going to say no to that. That is great.”

With Rieber’s vision, along with some technological wizardry, the congregation pulled that off. 

“Coming in with scratching our heads, wondering what to do, and ending up in a fairly short period of time with services that everybody enjoyed,” Parker said. “I credit quite a bit of that to Moti.”

Making the task even more daunting for Rieber was that he was replacing Rabbi Debbie Stiel, who had led the congregation for 14 years, creating bonds within the congregation and making a mark in Topeka’s wider religious community. 

Stiel left in June to become associate rabbi at Temple Solel in Phoenix. Rieber started as the interim rabbi on Aug. 1.

He and his wife, Suzy, are members of Congregation Beth Shalom and The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah, where Suzy is a teacher.

Temple Beth Sholom is a Reform congregation with about 95 families, and it’s part of a Jewish community that dates back to the earliest days of the city in the mid-19th century. Two congregations merged to build Temple Beth Sholom in 1920.

In addition to filling some big shoes with Stiel’s departure, Rieber also needed to knock off a little rust. He had not been a pulpit rabbi since leaving a part-time role in Lawrence five years ago.

Rieber left that position to focus on building Kansas Interfaith Action, the organization he leads as executive director. The statewide group lobbies for social, economic, and climate justice issues, and that means Rieber already spends a lot of his time in Topeka.

Stiel contacted Rieber to see if he would be interested in the interim role, and the process moved forward in the summer.

Rabbi Moti Rieber leads High Holiday services at Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka.

Rabbi Moti Rieber leads High Holiday services at Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka.

For Rieber, taking over at Beth Sholom meant finding some of his old resources and getting back into the rhythm of Shabbat services and duties like that. “And obviously it is a lot different experience for me,” Rieber said, “because it’s the first time in five years I’ve led High Holiday services, and here we are on Zoom.”

In getting over the technological barrier, it helped that Parker is a professional videographer. Even getting started, he said, meant smoothing over some ruffled feathers among congregants who weren’t on board with pre-recording some of the services.

Then came the filming, which they staggered at the temple during two or three days of filming. Rieber had charted out roles. In the end, they did about 45 separate videos to work into the live portions of the services. They prerecorded as much as they could, including blowing the shofar and the aliyahs.

The congregants had not been in the sanctuary since March, and Rieber wanted to ensure they could experience as much of that as possible. 

Parker said the congregation will ramp up it search for a new full-time rabbi in the coming weeks. The search and interview process would likely stretch into the summer as Rieber’s one-year contract comes to a close.

The idea of an interim rabbinate had never come up before to Rieber. But he is enjoying his experience at Beth Sholom.

The toughest part, of course, has been getting to know the families without any face-to-face contact beyond Zoom. Some things, like schmoozing at the oneg, just can’t happen.

But, Rieber did invite folks to come meet him in the sukkah for Sukkot with all the proper precautions for the pandemic. He had a lulav and etrog.

Even though he is only temporarily filling in at the temple, Rieber does not take a part-time approach to the job. He holds office hours and goes into the office once a week. “As long as I am here,” he said, “I am their rabbi.”

As a social activist, Rieber said he does not impose those views on the congregation. But, Parker said, the congregation embraces the progressivism that marked Stiel’s tenure and will likely select someone similar as the next full-time rabbi.

“We know its important on many different levels to be engaged with the community, especially in a city where, as far as Judaism is concerned, we are it,” he said. “Luckily, through the efforts of our social action committee, and a lot of efforts by Rabbi Stiel, we have made tremendous inroads, and have become very active in the interfaith community – and it’s important.”

 

More News

College News

Dynamic Hebrew Bible Scholar to Lead Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Amanda Beckenstein Mbuvi, Ph.D., has been named the next vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) outside Philadelphia. Mbuvi (she/her), a scholar of Hebrew Bible, brings to this role a wealth of academic, administrative and nonprofit leadership experience.

News
College News

Sharon Kleinbaum, RRC '90, rabbi of New York City LGBTQ synagogue, picked to rejoin US religious freedom commission

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who has led New York City’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah since 1992, is one of President Joe Biden’s choices to join the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

News
College News

Rabbi Emily Cohen ('18) Rabbi Connecting Jews on the Margins

I’m grateful to be a tech native since that has vastly improved my ability to do my work via Zoom and phone this year, but in some ways it feels like this first year will have been the warm up to my proper entry into the West End community. 

News
College News

The Naval petty officer who found her rabbinic legs at sea — Rabbinical Student Kanaan Goldstein

Goldstein chose to affiliate with the Reconstructionist Judaism movement and enroll in its seminary, because she felt it was “the only school for me because it is aligned with my values as a human being. Its policy on interfaith relations, Jewish blood lines, attitudes towards inclusivity and diversity – it made me feel that this is the school where I belong.”

News
College News

Kol hakavod Rabbi Miriam Geronimus ('21)

Geronimus chose to pursue rabbinic studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College because of its combined focus on Jewish history, culture, and spirituality. As a longtime spiritual seeker with an academic orientation, she found the rabbinic program that would work for her. She particularly appreciated the RRC’s emphasis on practical rabbinics.

News
College News

Rabbi returns home to become health care chaplain - Rabbi Rachel Davidson ('21)

For Cleveland native Rabbi Rachel Davidson, the road to chaplaincy is leading right back to Cleveland as a chaplain resident at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center near University Circle. “When I had the calling to the rabbinate, I felt specifically really pulled to becoming a health care chaplain,” Davidson told the Cleveland Jewish News June 21. “To become a chaplain, you need training after seminary, so I’m starting that next level of training.”

News
College News

Incoming rabbi looks forward to meeting congregants in person - Rabbi Mikey Hess Webber ('21)

Rabbi Mikey Hess Webber has served as Columbia Jewish Congregation’s rabbinic intern for nearly a year and is now about to become the congregation’s new rabbi and spiritual leader, but she has yet to meet her new congregation face to face.

News
College News

Rabbi Michael Perice ('20) Shares Experience of Opiate Addiction to Help Others

Rabbi Michael Perice, a 2020 RRC graduate, recently told his congregation the story of his four-year struggle with opioid addiction and his celebration of 10 years of sobriety. His motive: to break down the stigma of addiction and inspire others to get help. 

News
College News

On Juneteenth, Joy and Grief Mingle for Black Jews - Rabbinical Student Koach Frazier

When Koach Baruch Frazier prepares their seder plate, they nestle beets next to okra, blackeyed peas, eggs boiled in hibiscus tea, hot red peppers, baked sweet potato and cornbread, all arranged in a plate set next to a kiddush cup fizzing with red soda, in observance of Juneteenth.

News
College News

New Sacred Music Inspired By COVID - Rabbinical Student, Solomon Hoffman

Solomon Hoffman’s foray into COVID sacred music came out of his experience as a hospital chaplain in New York City during the height of the virus’s outbreak.

News
College News

The Forward Spotlights Rabbi Darby Leigh ('08)

“This has been 1000% my experience,” he continued. “I have continuously been aware on a daily basis of living in a society that is not set up to meet my needs. But this is true for so many people – gay, trans-, bi-. If you’re a person of color here you are not living in a world set up for you. If you are a person with a disability you know this society was not set up for you”

News
College News

Film chronicles the work of Rabbi Kevin Hale ('97)

The film follows the work that Hale, the Northampton rabbi, does to restore two Torahs that were among nearly 1,600 scrolls saved in Prague, capital of what was then Czechoslovakia, after World War II. Workers in a Jewish museum in the city had stored Torahs and other valuables from synagogues that had been shut down following the German occupation.

News
College News

Reconstructionist congregations partner across the miles - Rabbi Nitkin-Kaner ('16) and Rabbi Weissman ('17)

Little did these two rabbinical students imagine that within a decade they would bring together their Reconstructionist congregations — one located in Ann Arbor and one in Attleboro, Massachusetts — for joint worship services and holiday celebrations on a platform called Zoom.

News
College News

The Well & Jewish News’ 36 Under 36: Rabbi Ari Witkin ('19)

The great joy of his job is supporting Metro Detroiters leadership in the work of building and strengthening our community. In addition to his role at Federation, he currently serves as the part-time rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Bay City.

News
College News

Rabbi Shira Stutman ('07): Hanukkah celebrates a Jewish victory, but this year the rebuilding matters more

It’s about that moment immediately after the Jews won — when, surveying the damage in their country and among their people, they realized how much work there was still to be done, and then chose to get up and start doing it. It is, in other words, the perfect allegory for the United States in 2020.

News