Rabbi Avi Strausberg tells us how organic farming led her to become Temple of Aaron’s Director of Congregational Learning.
Congratulations on your new position as Temple of Aaron’s new Director of Congregational Learning. What does the position entail?
It’s a focus on the adult education and programming with some teaching and organizing adult learning. I want to draw in a diverse group of learners from different backgrounds and ages to take part in our educational programming. I will also be offering sermons and handling lifecycle events.
What interested you in the position?
For me, one of the most exciting things about the primarily educational position I hold is the ability to keep alive the tradition of discussing and learning and debating Judaism. It’s a tradition, this ongoing conversation that spans hundreds of generations. Getting to jump in and invite other people into that conservation to create a live, participatory culture that’s active and not a passive experience is what I am most looking forward to.
When did you move to the Twin Cities?
It’s been two weeks now. Once we get unpacked and settled, we’re looking forward to getting to know the city. I’m looking at the river right now and I love how green it is outside and that I can see the downtown skyline.
How did your path lead you to Minnesota?
I took a pretty winding path to get here. I’m from New Jersey originally. During college, I studied theatre at Northwestern University in Chicago. After I gave up theatre, I lived in New Zealand for a year, learning organic farming and living on a farm. Then, I did an organic, Jewish farming program in Connecticut called Adamah, which led me to path of Hebrew study. I followed that path to rabbinical school in Boston. And now I’m in the Twin Cities and looking forward to being a Minnesotan!
What led you to work on an organic farm?
I grew up in the conservative movement. I was always really drawn to Judaism but didn’t land in the right community. After college, I became interested in the communal aspects of farming and thought it would be an adventure to live in New Zealand. Then, I found out about Adamah, which is a three-month Jewish farming fellowship in Connecticut. It was a great intersection between organic farming, sustainability and Jewish values. It was the first time I felt Jewish in a strong, vibrant community and it gave me the fuel to pursue more Jewish learning.
Do you still farm?
I don’t. It’s sad. But, I’m always hoping I’ll be able to do pickling, fermenting and other farm activities that I really enjoyed. I hope I can incorporate some of my past experiences into adult education classes at the Temple of Aaron.
You have the interesting distinction of being the only female rabbi of a conservative congregation in the Twin Cities. How do you feel about the lack of female clergy and do you hope that you are changing the trend?
I believe I am now one of two female rabbis. Rabbi Tamar Grimm just took a position at Beth Jacob. I’m excited to get to know Jewish community here and I know there have previously been female rabbis. We have a really strong clergy at Temple of Aaron and I am looking forward to offering a different voice and perspective to the congregation.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
That would have to be Pesach. One of the things I love about Pesach is that it’s a narrative that is steeped in tradition but also allows for new ways of interpretation. We look for new ways of celebrating it each year to keep the holiday vibrant. I really love all the different haggadahs. So, our family tradition is to treat ourselves to a new haggadah each year.
Last year, we used a new one, the Asufah Haggadah, which is a compilation of different Israeli artists’ interpretation of a Seder on each page. It’s a work of art and really made the holiday special.
What is your favorite Jewish food?
I recently discovered latkes with lox and a little dill. Delicious.
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