For the first time since his arrival in Omaha, Rabbi Josh Brown interacted with his new congregation in a more ceremonial capacity during last Friday’s Shabbat service.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Rabbi Brown told me later. “I was anxious to get a sense of what it feels like to be on the bima here.”
But if he was nervous, as he suggests, it didn’t show as he took to the microphone like an old-school talk show host, walking back and forth in front of the congregants like Phil Donahue. Instead of having one speaker talk about his or her memories of the Cass Street Temple Israel, Rabbi Brown took the opportunity to stage an informal Q&A session as a way to get to know both the building and its members.
“It’s harder to connect when you don’t know people,” Rabbi Brown said. “I was happily surprised when I was able to look out from the bima here and already know four or five people.”
Rabbi Brown asked questions about Temple Israel, the Cass Street building and what it means to everyone. He told a story about how, when he was working at a camp outside San Francisco, he took a group of Israeli volunteers to visit a temple in the city so that they could begin to understand American Jewry. Rabbi Brown told them that in order to work with American Jews, you had to understand how they think, what they prioritize, and learning how they worship, how they use their synagogues, is vital to that understanding.
And that’s what Rabbi Brown wanted from the congregants on Friday night. He wanted them to tell him their thoughts about the building so that he might better understand them. And while the chapel wasn’t bulging with parishioners, those in attendance did in fact help educate Rabbi Brown about not only the building, but its congregants, who are the lifeblood of any house of worship, as well.
“Things still feel very new here, but I don’t feel like a stranger,” Rabbi Brown told me.
Check out the video of the Q&A session below. For those who haven’t met him yet, hopefully it will serve as a brief introduction to Temple Israel’s new rabbi. And for those who have met Rabbi Brown, now you’ll get to see him in action.
And don’t forget, this Friday the 13th, Rabbi Brown will be taking to the microphone once again to more formally introduce himself to the congregation and tell us about his “Journey to Omaha.”