First, the founding members of Temple Shalom stood before the congregation.
Then into the sanctuary marched Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner and her mentor, Rabbi Sam Joseph of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
One by one, the past presidents of Temple Shalom, the current executive committee, the youth group leaders and Clay Callam, Jacowitz Chottiner’s first bar mitzvah as the congregation’s spiritual leader, followed the rabbis down the aisle.
Finally, cradling a Torah, an emotional Rabbi Emeritus Stanley Miles walked in as the 100-plus worshippers gave him a standing ovation.
He joined the procession, now standing before the bima and placed the Torah in the founders’ arms. They passed the scroll down the line until it again reached Miles. Then he placed it in Jacowitz Chottiner’s arms.
So began the Friday, November 11, installation ceremony of Jacowitz Chottiner as only the second rabbi in the congregation’s 40-year history. The ceremony kicked off a weekend of celebration for Temple Shalom, which culminated with its ruby anniversary gala at the Standard Club.
Miles seemed to grasp the moment’s significance. Speaking at the installation, he said Temple Shalom was poised to follow a Jewish Louisville tradition: rabbinic longevity.
“Adath Jeshurun has had three senior rabbis in 100 years,” he said. “I hope we follow that tradition. I think we will.”
This reporter is the husband of Jacowitz Chottiner.
The installation ceremony is an American invention, according to Joseph, the Eleanor Sinsheimer Distinguished Service Professor of Jewish Education and Leadership Development at HUC-JIR.
“A spiritual leader in Eastern Europe was seldom installed,” he said. “There, where the rabbi was not given a temporary contract for one, three or five years, but was presented with a k’tav rabbanut – a contract with life tenure that was signed by all the worthies of the community – the rabbi was not officially installed. Here, where the position of the rabbi is sometimes precarious and insecure, a vast number of people would gather at a banquet and install him with all the pomp and ceremony that American Jewry is noted for.”
Joseph called Jacowitz Chottiner “a very special text person,” saying she “embodies one who believes that living a full, rich, meaningful Jewish life is a special gift for us Jews.
“She teaches us about this kind of life,” he continued. “She guides us, counsels us and supports us as we learn and live Jewishly. And, as is to be expected of one who is our rabbi, Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner lives this life herself.”
The next night’s gala was a ruby-studded evening – literally. (Costume rubies dotted the banquet tables and ruby colored drinks were mixed up at the bar.) A raffle was held for everything from a basket of bourbon to jewelry to babysitting sessions to lunch with the rabbi. Shir Adat, the choral group from Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, provided the entertainment.
Stuart Milk, president of the Harvey Milk Foundation and an international human rights activist, was the keynote speaker, offering a sober assessment of LGBT rights around the globe.
Longtime Temple Shalom members – President Keiron O’Connell; Immediate Past President Matt Doctrow; Treasurer Adam Mather, who grew up in the congregation; and Miles – gave their own takes on the history of the congregation.
They talked about its earliest days meeting at the JCC, to the time that Bellarmine University hosted the fledgling congregation, to its first building – a house on Taylorsville Road so small that Torah processions on Simchat Torah were done outdoors (a tradition that continues for the first and final hakafot to this day) – to its current location on Lowe Road where most of the bima and foyer furnishings were built by members.
Miles, who spent 38 years as Temple Shalom’s rabbi, recalled leading his first service in the JCC patio gallery. He saw a portable ark built by David Kling, containing a Torah on loan from Adath Jeshurun, copies of the newly revised Union Prayer Book, and an art exhibit on the walls.
“On three of the four walls, nudes, nudes, nudes – great exhibit,” Miles said. “We talk about spirituality. That didn’t do much for it.”
Speaking at the gala, Jacowitz Chottiner told members and guests from other congregations that Temple Shalom’s founding followed the tradition of Avram setting out for Canaan – in other words, starting anew.
“In many ways, the founders of Temple Shalom were like Avram,” she said. “They were called to start a new congregation, one that would be smaller and more intimate than the congregation that was being formed from the merger” that created The Temple.
“From what I understand, there were naysayers who said it couldn’t be done,” she added, “but like Avram, our founders had the necessary faith and courage to move forward, heeding the call they felt in their hearts, minds and souls. They let their vision be their guide, and look how far we’ve come!”