P’nai Or hires new rabbi
By DEBORAH MOON, Jewish Review
article created on: 2011-07-01T00:00:00
Congregation P’nai Or of Portland has hired Rabbi Debra Kolodny, currently executive director of Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, to become the local Renewal congregation’s new permanent rabbi effective Sept. 5.
Kolodny succeeds Rabbi David Zaslow, who was hired as the part-time interim rabbi for P’nai Or to help the congregation transition toward hiring a permanent rabbi to replace its founder Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield, who died in a snorkeling accident in 2009.
Kolodny will begin serving the congregation on Labor Day at the congregation’s welcoming picnic. The position is beginning at half time, said P’nai Or President Lynn Taylor.
“We look forward to the Jewish community of Portland meeting Rabbi Debra Kolodny as she joins us for High Holidays,” said Taylor.
Kolodny said she will continue as part-time executive director of Aleph until the international organization hires a replacement.
Following her graduation and rabbinic ordination in January, Kolodny said she was not actively seeking a pulpit. Though she said she did feel the need to expand the teaching and spiritual side of her life beyond the primarily administrative role of running an international organization.
“I was at P’nai Or a couple times in my capacity at Aleph,” she said. “This feels like a great fit, so I put my hat in the ring. I wasn’t on a major job search, this is very much about P’nai Or.”
She said she was very taken by the level of spiritual depth she saw at P’nai Or, as well as the “level of commitment people had to holding the community together through the trauma of losing Rabbi Aryeh.”
Kolodny said when she came out for a rabbi candidate visit in March, the congregation requested numerous teaching sessions.
“I like to teach,” said Kolodny. “The way Reb Aryeh taught them to explore texts was very much in sync with my style. I felt like I had been in conversation with them for 20 years. When I asked a question, what people had to offer was so insightful and so deep… what more could a rabbi ask for?”
Kolodny said she believes P’nai Or will reap the benefit of her pre-rabbinic experience.
“For the last eight and a half years leading Aleph one of my main duties was to support and consult to all Renewal congregations worldwide,” she said. “The previous 15 years I was an organization development consultant for nonprofits. I have over 20 years experience in nonprofit governance issues such as volunteer activation, membership building, fundraising and financial sustainability, media and visibilitiy, and leadership development—all practical matters of running a congregation.”
Additionally, in her non-professional life, Kolodny said for the past dozen years she has been performing a variety of rabbinic activities including leading prayers, teaching, officiating at life-cycle events. She also served as the spiritual leader of a small havurah in the Washington, D.C., area for four years.
She said that attending the Aleph rabbinic school added so much to her experience.
“I had the practical rabbinics,” she said. “But the academics—history, philosophy, Gemara, codes, liturgy—I had studied extensively, but this was more concentrated. Having grown up in a secular home, I needed Gemara and codes—the traditional rabbinics.”
Kolodny said during her candidate visit she fell in love with Portland and the surrounding area.
“I had a profound spiritual experience on the way to Multnomah Falls,” she said. “The land, the environment is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I felt like I was being called home.”
In addition to serving P’nai Or and engaging the local Jewish community, Kolodny said she is looking forward to continuing the congregation’s work with the interfaith community. She said the Portland community’s emphasis on the environment, sustainable food, health care and feminism also resonate strongly with her.
Kolodny said she is looking forward to leading her new congregation for the High Holy Days and she welcomes nonmembers to come experience the Renewal congregation.
For more information on P’nai Or, visit www.pnaiorpdx.org or call 503-248-4500.