Rabbi Tamar Magill-Grimm was in need of a break from the pulpit when she took the job as director of Hineni, Talmud Torah of St. Paul’s adult Jewish education program – but was staying on at Beth Jacob Congregation a quarter of the time to do pastoral care.
But when it was announced that Senior Rabbi Adam Rubin was going to be leaving the synagogue to take a pulpit job in Montreal, Beth Jacob leadership turned to Magill-Grimm to come back to the synagogue full-time to become the synagogue’s acting senior rabbi. The move was finalized in a congregational vote that closed last weekend.
“I really liked the Hinieni job. It was fun and important work, and it’s an important piece of the pie of how we provide Jewish learning and spirituality in a variety of ways in the community,” Magill-Grimm said. “I did miss being a rabbi. I knew at some point I’d go back into it, I just didn’t think it would be quite so soon.
“I love Beth Jacob so much. When they asked me I had to say yes.”
The first Shabbat service for Magill-Grimm and Rabbi Justin (JP) Held, who succeeds Magill-Grimm as rabbi/educator, will be July 8.
Magill-Grimm had notified the Beth Jacob board that she was going to take the Hineni position in August 2022, starting the role in early 2023. Rubin had notified the board of his plan to depart at the end of his contract – June 30, 2023 – in mid-May.
Beth Jacob President Orit Ackerman said that the tight timeline was why the synagogue gave Magill-Grimm the title of acting senior rabbi. Normally rabbi contracts run from July 1-June 30, and searches often begin in the fall prior to the start date.
“I didn’t want the community to assume that she was the perfect person,” Ackerman said. “This gives her and us a chance to try out for two years then all together, we can make a decision. We can either renew or do a full search.”
Ackerman said the Beth Jacob community was notified within a few days of Rubin’s decision.
“We couldn’t move forward until we knew for sure, which is part of why we didn’t want to try and start a full search,” she said. “It’s not the search season.”
Magill-Grimm has been at Beth Jacob for eight years, starting as assistant rabbi under founding Rabbi Morris Allen, and then becoming rabbi/educator. Allen had taken a sabbatical for the last year of his contract making Magill-Grimm the only rabbi at the synagogue. When Allen left, Magill-Grimm said she wasn’t ready to be senior rabbi yet. She had been a single mother to her first daughter, Sophie.
“I didn’t think that it would be possible to do the job I’d want to do and be the kind of mom I wanted to be,” she said. “When they did the search in 2019, I had met my now husband and we had Rose in November 2019, and Beth Jacob was looking to hire starting in July 2020.
“There were a few times over the last few years where I was trying to juggle being the only rabbi and doing education work. The only time I was able to dig into that was after Rabbi Rubin was hired. And that was the fall of 2020.”
Ackerman said that Rubin’s tenure was dramatically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The synagogue didn’t start doing in-person services until June of 2021, and even then turnout was low – so he didn’t get to meet much of his congregation.
“It was really an uphill battle his entire 3 years,” Ackerman said. “He was never really able to get his footing. The timing of it didn’t allow for it, and there’s nothing that could be done. He couldn’t meet congregants in the way he wanted to.”
The pandemic also deeply impacted Magill-Grimm’s educator role.
“I never really got fully into the role until we came back from the pandemic, and it wasn’t the right role for me,” she said. Keeping the pastoral care work after going to Hineni was important to her.
“It is meaningful to me to be with people in challenging times.”
Since the announcement of her return, Magill-Grimm has been inundated with messages from the community.
“It’s been kind of overwhelming but really uplifting,” she said. “People have been very supportive and grateful.”