I met Jason Rodich a few weeks ago at an ice cream social Shir Tikvah held to celebrate his arrival and introduce him to the congregation. “Welcome,” I told him, over the head of my second grader, whose hand he was shaking enthusiastically. “Or rather, welcome back!”
Rabbi Rodich is the new Assistant Rabbi and Director of Lifelong Learning at Shir Tikvah, but he definitely isn’t new to the Twin Cities. He grew up in Saint Louis Park and spent most of his youth and young adulthood at Temple Israel. It was there that he first experienced the kind of Jewish communal space he hopes to create in his own rabbinate. “I had friends I knew cared about me,” he told me, “and I was safe.”
He shared this within minutes of our sitting down to lunch together last week. Jason has openness and warmth that are evident right away. As we spoke, and I asked him the questions I’d prepared, he was candid and straightforward. He’s incredibly smart, but his intelligence has no sharp edges, no iciness; I felt welcomed in, and as we dug into our giant salads, we talked and laughed. When I reached the end of my interview questions and put down my pen, he said, “Good, now tell me all about you.”
Jason told me that he came out at a young age, and that, while school didn’t feel like a safe, supportive space, shul did. It’s a big part of why he became a rabbi. “Growing up,” he said, “there was a sense of community that I didn’t have anywhere else. I saw how Jewish community could be transformative in people’s lives, because it was in mine. Because I got to really feel what it was like for people to show up for each other, to be responsible for each other. So I wanted to be a part of recreating that.”
Which he did – even before he started rabbinical school, Jason worked here in Minnesota as a case manager and outreach worker for homeless and at-risk youth. He worked for the Minneapolis Jewish Federation on their annual campaign. And later, during rabbinical school, he interned in community organizing and social justice. He’s loved everything he’s done along the way, which is the other part of why he became a rabbi. “I see the rabbinate as a job where I can do a lot of things that I love,” he said. “I love teaching, I love counseling, I love ritual, I love public communal life, politics, community organizing. These are all things that I have an interest in and in some way am well-suited for, and I didn’t want to choose one. And the rabbinate lets you not choose one.”
I asked him about his vision for his rabbinate and, more broadly, for the Jewish community, and he told me, “I think that American Judaism – world Judaism really – is at this point of incredible change. I want to make my rabbinate about taking advantage of this as an opportunity, being excited about it, not buying into the narrative of ‘we’re disappearing, we’re falling apart,’ I really want to seize this moment, as in, ‘I get to be a rabbi at this moment in the history of the Jewish people, and this is a moment that calls for incredible innovation, and creative thinking, and flexibility, and the openness to this looking very different than how it does now.’ My vision is one of change, seizing the moment, and at the heart of that is relationships, building community, bringing people together, so that we can use this tradition as a resource in our lives.”
Jason is enthusiastic, but not impatient. He doesn’t expect to do everything in his first six months. His role at Shir Tikvah is vast, he has a lot of priorities to juggle as he gets to work, and his plan is to first build relationships, get to know the congregation, the families, the teachers, and “start to imagine together where we want to go.” He wants to hire great teachers and let them do what they’re best at, let them create “moments of depth and meaning that lead to a greater spiritual foundation and identity.” 5775 will be a Shmita year, and Rabbi Rodich tells me that he’s excited to have hired environmental educators to work with the fifth grade, incorporating the environment and environmental justice themes into the curriculum. “We have these amazing people who want to go snowshoeing with our kids and talk about prayer in the snow. Awesome. Go.”
He’s getting settled back into the Twin Cities, too. He and husband Fran, a management consultant, are soaking up culture, enjoying the arts and live music. They live in the North Loop in Downtown Minneapolis and are big fans of commuting by Nice Ride and exploring the food and wine options that have grown exponentially in their absence.
I asked Jason if he’d always planned on coming home to the Twin Cities, or if it was a happy coincidence, and he said, “It was on my radar, but what I wanted more than anything is a community I would want to join myself. I wanted a congregation that was deeply invested in the city it was in and in social justice, and that’s why I’m at Shir Tikvah.”
Shir Tikvah is excited that he’s come home to be part of our community. Welcome, Rabbi Rodich!