He has been in Ottawa only a few short weeks, but Rabbi Norman Klein said he is excited about his year-long Canadian adventure as interim rabbi at Temple Israel.
“I’ve never lived in Canada before. I visited several times over the years, but … that still takes some getting used to,” he said. “There are some remarkable differences.”
Rabbi Klein, an American, will serve the congregation for a year as it looks for a permanent rabbi to replace Rabbi Steven Garten, who retired in June after more than 19 years leading Ottawa’s Reform congregation.
Rabbi Klein said he understands the issues and emotions that arise from both the community and lay leaders while navigating such a transitional phase.
“One of my main goals is to find out what the congregation needs and help them get there,” he said. “I still have plenty to learn about what’s going on with the congregation, what are the issues, what are the strengths, weaknesses, organizing principles, and people the Temple counts on to make the organization function.”
Rabbi Klein’s first service was a community bat mitzvah, and Shaina Lipsey, Temple Israel’s president, said the community response to Rabbi Klein has been “unanimously and overwhelmingly positive” so far.
“He’s a lovely, charming man and he brings a lot to the table,” she said. “He’s got some really good experience and some really good ideas.”
This is not Rabbi Klein’s first time as an interim rabbi. He spent the last year at Temple Beth Torah in Wellington, Florida, where he said his skills as a certified interim rabbi were put to use.
“Interim rabbis are trained, specifically, to go into a congregation and help the congregation understand what it is it needs to look for in a new rabbi,” Lipsey said.
“Understandably, when you’ve had someone in a pulpit for 19 years, you will have someone whose ways are very, very familiar to the community; and, if you replace that person immediately with a new permanent rabbi, what you’re going to get is a community that then may be divided,” she said.
Rabbi Klein is rabbi emeritus of Sinai Temple in Champaign, Illinois, where he served from 1995 to 2013.
Lipsey said Rabbi Klein’s experiences will be invaluable.
“I think people are really excited about this new phase, this new stage, that we’re going into in terms of doing things a little differently, understanding that different is not a judgment on old ways. It’s just different and new, and experimenting and seeing where we can grow and how we can grow,” she said. “I think his guidance will be priceless.”
Rabbi Klein said he would do what he can to make this a productive year.
“I chat with everybody I run into,” he said. “But there are still plenty to get to know in the congregation … I’ve got plenty more to do there.”