Rabbi Broitman: Hebrew Center Is Embracing a New Arrival

By C.K. WOLFSON

It was a reverent and quietly momentous occasion. Sixty-three years after its incorporation by 10 Island families, the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center installed its first full-time rabbi.

Saying, "We do this with the hope and expectation in our hearts that this blessing of having you as our spiritual leader will enable all of us to grow spiritually and in knowledge of Torah," Hebrew Center president Edward Schwartz officially installed Rabbi Caryn Beth Broitman.

While a congregation of Hebrew Center members, guests from other Island churches, family and friends listened attentively, Mr. Schwartz conveyed the congratulations of state legislators including senators John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy and Gov. Mitt Romney.

Rev. Alden Besse of Grace Church, speaking as chairman of the Martha's Vineyard clergy committee, noted, "Already your presence is broadening and deepening our fellowship."

The festive summer afternoon began with a traditional Mincha, or afternoon service, led by Rabbi Broitman, who was joined by her friend Rabbi Dayle Friedman from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Pennsylvania.

But woven within the framework of the reform service and the various speeches, were insights into the cultural, spiritual and intellectual motivation of the 42-year-old rabbi, along with some aspects of Reconstructionism.

Rabbi Broitman, who exudes a calm that approaches serenity, explained to the Gazette that she was drawn to become a rabbi by "the sense of belonging to something bigger than myself, the belief that we are called by God to be a people, and together to do good in the world."

A Harvard University, magna cum laude graduate in comparative religions, she was ordained from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1991, participated in multi-faith conferences in Hong Kong, Canada, Australia and before her July arrival on the Vineyard, was the founding rabbi of Congregation Tzedak V'Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Newton, Pa.

She views Judaism as a civilization. Beyond being a religion, it is that which includes all of the culture, literature and history - an evolving process of spiritual and intellectual beliefs. She supports Israel as a Jewish state, and defines Zionism as a Jewish liberation movement.

"In my work as a rabbi I hope to be able to share my passion for Israel, and create an environment where we can have an open dialogue about the critical, moral questions facing Israel and the Jewish people today."

Lori Sue Herman, cochairman of the search committee, remembered being impressed, not only by Rabbi Broitman's experience and academic resume, but also by her affinity for the Island. She and her husband, Rabbi Brian Welt, director of Rabbis for Human Rights, North America, and their three children Galya, Chana and Ben were frequent summer visitors.

In addition to the Rabbi's quiet enthusiasm and self-effacing style, she was happy to relocate to the Island with her family and willing to find a balance between Reconstructionism and the Hebrew Center's Reform tradition.

And the more than year-long search for a rabbi came to a unanimously agreed upon conclusion.

"Being an effective rabbi really means being in a good relationship with the congregation you're serving," Rabbi Broitman said. "It's a partnership, and the rabbi is as effective as the partnership is."

Leading the installation ceremony was Rabbi Broitman's former teacher, Rabbi Arthur Green, former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, professor of Jewish Thought at Brandeis University, and director of the International Centre for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.

Rabbi Green spoke of building an authentic community as "retail, not wholesale work," explaining it has to be done one by one. "Being a full human being," he said, is the antidote for the mass media, disposal culture.

After commenting on the beauty of the Island, Rabbi Green said that although the Vineyard does not have a lot of Jewish history, its Jewish population should offer the Island its informed voice in matters from shoreline protection to development. He then charged Rabbi Broitman to, "proceed with courage and confidence."

And then it was the rabbi's turn.

In a soft and slightly musical voice she began, "My earliest memories are of my falling in love with Judaism. When I think back to my growing up as a Jew, and my wanting to be a rabbi, the central theme is also love."

The themes of Jewish culture and community, the study of Torah and social consciousness were stressed throughout the afternoon. Phrases such as "seriously engaged community," "intellectual fulfillment," and "authentic Jewish commitment," were repeated often.

"When we pray, I want it to be real. When we study, I want us to be intellectually challenged. When we learn values in our Torah of how to treat others whether in our community or across the globe, I want us to act on those beliefs," Rabbi Broitman told the gathering. "I do want us to have the courage to discuss difficult issues, to have the humility to listen to others with respect, and to be a force in this community and in the world for good."

The festivities included toasts, a klezmer band, and refreshments catered by Jan Buhrman & Kitchen Porch Catering. Rabbi Broitman was surrounded by her family.

"We are fortunate to live on an Island where people of different faiths and cultures live together in a spirit of friendship and mutual respect. It has been historically important to this community to build bridges with other communities on the Island. We are the Jewish address on the Island, giving us a great responsibility and sense of purpose. The deeper our Jewish life is, the more we have to offer others."