Rabbi Moti Rieber ('04) quickly takes reins as interim in Topeka | Page 3 | 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

Hate Knocks on the Door: What to do when your synagogue is vandalized? - Rabbi Shira Stutman ('07)

The door flew open, and there was Rabbi Shira Stutman.  She beamed, smiling and immediately embraced us. “Welcome,” she said, “welcome to Sixth and I.”

News
College News

Panelists Discuss Being Trans in the Jewish Community - Rabbinical student, Koach Baruch Frazier

Frazier said that his Reform synagogue in Missouri, where he lived at the time, worked with him to create a meaningful mikvah transition ceremony at the river. He said his transition was more difficult for his work. “When I changed my name legally, everybody thought I got married,” Frazier said to laughs from the audience.

News
College News

After years of pressure from advocates, Pa. House advances gift ban - Rabbi Michael Pollack ('17)

After years of pressure from advocates, leaders in Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled state House are indicating they might be willing to substantially tighten the law governing legislative gifts.

Michael Pollack, a Philadelphia rabbi, has spent the last three years nonviolently agitating for a gift ban with the group March on Harrisburg.

News
College News

The Growing Ranks of Female Scribes - Rabbi Bec Richman ('18)

Richman feels that there is a tension in her understanding of her craft. On one hand, it does feel “powerfully subversive” to do something denied to women for centuries; on the other hand, she does find meaning in tradition.

News
College News

For artist-rabbi and his Baltimore flock, Rosh Hashanah means honoring the past before letting it go - Rabbi Douglas Heifetz ('05)

It’s no coincidence Heifetz, a 45-year-old Silver Spring resident, thought of turning the tradition into an exercise in art. About four years ago, he says, he felt a compulsion to “do something with my hands” and began experimenting with metal as an art form. Heifetz progressed from creatively bending silverware to molding and shaping metal, transforming spoons, copper wire and car trim into works of art.

News
College News

Rabbinical student, May Ye, led a workshop on improving racial equality in Judaism

Ye led discussions on the intersection of social justice and spiritual space, and how to honor the wide variety of ethnic backgrounds that exist in Judaism.

News
College News

Rabbi Amy Bernstein (‘97) featured in Tashlikh Reconstructed

“We accept the responsibility for changing and for changing this world. That is what people need to stay in hope. And without hope, there is no energy for no creative new solutions,” says Rabbi Amy Bernstein (‘97) in this moving video, Tashlikh Reconstructed.

News
College News

Rabbi Michelle Stern ('11) honored as an outstanding young professional by Jewish Federation

The award, which was presented at the Federation’s Annual Meeting Sept. 17, recognizes Jewish professionals under 40 whose exemplary performance at a Jewish agency in the Chicago area has benefited the entire Jewish community.

News
College News

‘We are all accountable’: Maryland’s Jewish community protests ICE in Howard County - Rabbi Ariana Katz ('18)

“We are all accountable for the violence that happens at our borders,” Katz said. “Showing up for others is actually an action you can do in a world that feels powerless.”

News
College News

Rabbi Rachel Weiss ('09) was a keynote speaker at Evanston's first Pride Fest.

Keynote speakers included Rabbi Rachel Weiss of Evanston’s Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. Weiss was raised in Evanston and said she is the town’s first lesbian rabbi. “I came back after college and my wife and I got married here in Evanston at the synagogue where I am now rabbi,” Weiss said.

News
College News

A nesting chain of dependencies - Rabbi Leiah Moser (‘17)

“I was very interested in Kaplan’s approach to Judaism as an evolving religious civilization, and the idea that it is a manifestation of Jews and what we believe and how we believe, not the other way around. It is not that we are Torah, and therefore we are Jews. It is more that we are Jews, and therefore there is Torah.”

News
College News

Out rabbi to begin tenure at local synagogue - Rabbi Alanna Sklover (‘13)

A graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College with a specialization in the congregational rabbinate, Sklover said she identifies with the strong sense of community and inclusion that the Or Hadash congregation cultivates. 

News
College News

Tai chi with tefillin: Inside New York’s quirkiest yeshiva

“Parts of it feels radically different,” said Lily Solochek, a rabbinical student who began studying at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and is now a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

News
College News

Meet the young Jews chanting ‘Never again!’ and blocking streets to shut down Trump’s camps

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on Never Again Action’s July 2019 demonstrations against refugee detainment camps, featuring rabbinical student Lizzie Horn.

News
College News

Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner ('16) Featured in Moving Video from Avodah Service Corps

This video recounts a pre-rabbinical school experience of Rabbi Ora Nitkin-Kaner, who graduated in 2016.

News