Who The Folk?! Rabbi Arielle Rosenberg

Rabbi Arielle Rosenberg is settling into her new life in Minneapolis as the assistant rabbi at Shir Tikvah. Rosenberg talks about creating a new community, the constant sounds of airplanes coming or going from the airport, why she chose the accordion as her instrument of choice, and what it’s like to start her job so close to Rosh Hashanah in this week’s Who The Folk?!

How are you finding your way so far?

It’s a small way. I basically live around the corner at 46th and Lyndale. I was living on the Upper West Side and was working at B’nai Jeshurun, which is on 88th, so that was a 10-block neighborhood. I felt like my world was small then, and now I’ve basically created the Upper West Side for myself here. I just got ordained in June. I was working at BJ as a rabbinic fellow, doing a lot of music and prayer, and I’d go to school in Boston. I’d sit in the café car of the Amtrak and do my work going up, and mostly sleep coming back. I was bi-city for a year.

What school in Boston were you at?

Hebrew College, which is the trans-denominational rabbinical school.

Was it Minneapolis or Shir Tikvah that really appealed to you?

I’m originally from Oregon and had lived in Portland and Seattle a lot of my life, and then in Boston and New York. So mostly coastal. Shir Tikvah really shocked me.

How so?

Rabbi Latz reached out to me as I was moving towards ordination that they were looking for a musical rabbi and that he had heard about me from friends, and we had a conversation. I got off the phone and it was so fun, and I couldn’t wait to talk again. So we talked again, and I was like “that was really fun.” And ordination season is not fun. I came up to visit, and my partner, Noam, and I really felt embraced by the community. We really resonated with the music of Shabbat here: It’s very full-hearted and big and courageous. People do not hold back with their singing and their spirit. And the Torah that was taught was really moving to me. So we flew back thinking we were going to stay in New York City and we said to each other “are we really saying no to New York?” And the next day we accepted. I don’t think any of us were thinking it would be such a sweet fit. I’ve been here about a month and I’ve gotten to work with musicians, and the choir, and the kids, and doing teachings all over the community. It’s been a really great fit this first month. *Knocks on table*

Why is ordination season so stressful?

We get to parachute into a community for a weekend. Everyone’s a little bit raw. We’re all trying to put our best face forward, both the candidate and the community. But also, just anytime you’re a newcomer you’re seeing things out of context. You spend three days intensely in a community and then leave and have to somehow see if that’s my match. I got to go all over the country as part of this search. It’s a feeling of opening your heart really, really wide to see ‘Are you my community?’ I was lucky to see Jewish life all over the country. It’s part of the joy of being a non-denominational rabbi. I was all over the spectrum. But here I am.

Minnesota’s great in that way that we have a Jewish community that’s all over the spectrum.

The community is so active. It’s inspiring. I grew up in Portland, which according to polls, is the most “unchurched” city. We didn’t have big synagogues. We had Jews in Portland, but we didn’t have big synagogues. Being here it’s a completely different culture.

I’ve been out of Portland for a while, but I get to go back to visit and I love seeing the Jewish life. What I’ve noticed in Portland, and I’m curious to see here, is Jewish life is very much outside of the walls of the synagogue. So how do you have Havdallah in the park? What are the pop-up Jewish experiences? It’s a startup mentality which is exhausting and really exciting to think about. What does Jewish life look like when you take it out of the synagogue and into the streets and into the homes? There’s a lot you can do.

Have you seen other congregations focus on the question of engagement?

What drew me was the focus on meaning-making. How do we understand what we’re doing and how do we make meaning of our lives. We’re coming together because it feels good and means something on a deep level. I like getting to be a part of that project. How are we engaging and bringing people in? what’s the experience we’re giving? Will people leave singing and continue to share those melodies with each other? Will the Torah we’re teaching actually speak to what people are living through when we leave the sanctuary.

Coming from New York, I feel like my Shabbat community was so much driven by the neighborhood I lived in. Here, there’s a really robust neighborhood culture. There’s real neighborhood pride. How can we create a Shabbat community that works with pre-existing pride for community? It’s going to be fun.

Do you feel like the training wheels have come off?

That’s a funny question; I just got my bike last week. The work I get to do here is work I’ve been doing for five years. The intersection of prayer, music and social justice is the work I’ve been digging into. For that, I feel like I get to sharpen my skills. Ask me after the High Holidays. In 5778, G-d willing, the training wheels are coming off. Part of the reason I feel so steady is that I have colleagues and community members who are amazing to make sure I don’t fall.

I see an accordion; where did the musical rabbi come from?

My mom is a lay cantor in Portland, so I grew up singing Jewish music all the time, and I loved singing from the beginning. I thought a long time about being an opera singer. I didn’t become an opera singer, obviously. I had been living in Italy and I was coming home and I’d had it. I was thinking: what could I do that could blend music, and my love of community building, my love of learning and writing, and my desire to be relevant in my community’s life. The only thing that put all those together was being a rabbi.

I play the accordion because all my friends play the acoustic guitar and I’m a little bit competitive. I thought I will never be as good a guitar player as my friends. So I should play the accordion. Because who plays the accordion?

What are you most looking forward to in your first Rosh Hashanah service here?

That moment where everyone has streamed in and found their seats. The room is full of chatter, with the buzz in the room that’s a little hectic and scattered. I’m looking forward to the first time, and I hope it happens, that everyone takes a breath and you realize that something has shifted in the space. It may be after a song or long after we’ve started the movement into Rosh Hashanah. From that place of quiet and grounding, we can make it into 5778.

Are you nervous?

I feel humbled. There’s a lot to do between now and then. But I’m feeling hopeful that there will be a few moments of really praying and being in a deeper place.

Favorite Jewish food?

Challah. And I have celiac. My mom is a challah baker and I was a challah baker. My friend shared with me the most amazing gluten free challah recipe, which even people who can have regular challah love. So I will say that my favorite food is challah.  With gluten.

Favorite Jewish holiday?

I love Pesach. I love the fact that it’s in the home. It’s a full ritual but families get to do it for themselves, and it’s our obligation to make it relevant for our own lives. There’s something about feeling like we ourselves left Egypt and finding something in the moment.

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