On July 1, Louisville’s Temple Shalom began a new stage in the life of the congregation as it welcomed its new spiritual leader, Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner. Coming from Temple Shalom in Wheeling, WV, (she also grew up at Temple Shalom in New Jersey), Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner is only the second rabbi to serve this congregation. Her predecessor, Rabbi Stanley Miles, held the post for 39A years.
Bubbling with energy and enthusiasm, the new rabbi jumped right in, meeting people, fulfilling the myriad roles of a solo congregational rabbi, becoming acquainted with and involved with community organizations, preparing for the start of religious school and the High Holy Days, and planning to reinvigorate Temple Shalom’s youth group, and perhaps to start a group for seniors.
“I’m very excited to be here in Louisville, as is my husband, Lee Chottiner, and our daughter, Noa,” she said, “and I feel quite grateful to be here at Temple Shalom. I’m looking forward to serving the members of this congregation, but also to being involved in the greater Jewish community as well as the greater Louisville community.”
Already, Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner has committed to spending a week at Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) and has agreed to teach at and serve on the Louisville Beit Sefer Yachad Board “because education is very important to me.” In addition, she’s agreed to fill in for Rabbi Miles on WHAS11’s The Moral Side of the News when he is unavailable and is eager to pursue her own passion for interfaith work. She’s even accepted an invitation to meet with the women who are participating in the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip to Israel both before and after the trip.
Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner wants to be involved with everyone from tots to seniors. “I’m very energetic, passionate and committed to Judaism,” she said, “and I want to share that love.”
In Wheeling, Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner served Temple Shalom as its solo rabbi for 10 years. During her tenure, she brought stability and vigor to the congregation, and succeeded in bringing back 87 percent of the families who had left the congregation in prior years and bringing in new members.
She kept youth engaged after b’nai mitzvah, was an innovator with Jewish education and encouraged active youth group participation and more. She partnered with other congregations to enhance Shabbat and holiday celebrations and introduced many ritual and worship enhancements.
Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner was instrumental in expanding adult education and regularly created opportunities for people of all ages to engage in Jewish learning.
A true community leader in tikkun olam/social action work, Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner is the immediate past chair of the City of Wheeling Human Rights Commission, was a steering committee member for an LGBT support group, was a speaker at West Virginia University’s Yom HaShoah program and was a panel presenter for the Jewish Domestic Abuse Task Force of Pittsburgh. Her leadership was so strong and effective that in 2014, she was the recipient of the Governor of West Virginia’s Civil Rights Day Award.
Her community involvement in Wheeling included many interfaith activities. For example, she established a chapter of Classrooms Without Borders (CWB), a non-profit organization that provides Holocaust and Israel education through international travel; helped raise $179,000 from members of the greater Wheeling community, allowing 20 educators and 37 students to participate in the Poland Personally study seminar, visiting Holocaust sites with a survivor and professional guides and was a spiritual leader for seminar participants.
She organized and participated in numerous interfaith activities, including, but not limited to, Thanksgiving services, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Kristallnacht programs, as well as discussion groups, presentations and classes on many aspects of Judaism and was an active supporter of Israel, even running as an ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) candidate for the 37th World Zionist Congress and bringing AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) programs to her congregation. In fact, she has been to Israel 14 times.
While growing up, Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner was always involved in Jewish life and she loved it. She attended religious school, went to and later worked at Jewish summer camps and participated in youth group and was a regional board member. Her parents were also very involved in the Jewish community.
She attended the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University of Jerusalem for a year and while in Israel participated in Volunteers for Israel, helping on an Army base. She earned her BA in psychology with a minor in Judaic studies from Rutgers University. While she was in college, she taught religious school, was a youth group advisor and led NFTY in Israel trips.
Following graduation, she worked for the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest as coordinator of their Israel Program Center. She also worked in the Social Work Department at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, and held several positions, from assistant manager to buyer, with Marty’s Warehouse Shoe Outlet in New Jersey.
Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner’s passion for Judaism continued, and she decided to enroll in Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Education Program in New York. “While I was in that program, that’s when I realized that I really wanted to know more and learn more and do more. I was doing what is called independent spiritual guidance with one of my professors and it became clear that my next step was to apply to rabbinical school.”
She wanted to share simchas and times of sorrow, to teach and share her love of Judaism, to be with children at camp and to work with people. The best way to realize her dreams was to become a rabbi.
Serving Temple Shalom in Wheeling was a good experience for Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner. “We did a lot for a small congregation,” she said, but when the position at Temple Shalom in Louisville came open, she and her family were ready for a change. The Wheeling Jewish community is very small. To get together with Jewish colleagues, she would have to travel to Pittsburgh.
Rabbi Jacowitz Chottiner and her husband are excited about the opportunities Louisville offers their family, particularly for their daughter. There weren’t many Jewish children Noa’s age, and the couple wanted their daughter “to have a more vibrant Jewish community in which to grow up,” she said.
“When Lee and I were invited to come Louisville, we both had a really wonderful experience and a great feeling. We both come from bigger cities – I’m from the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, Lee’s from Pittsburgh, so we liked having more of a metropolitan feel. While I did get other offers, it felt like a good fit” and they are eager to put down roots here.
“I’ve only known Rabbi Miles for few months, but feel like I’ve known him for years,” she added. “He and Sheilah have been warm and welcoming and gracious. I feel really blessed to have Rabbi Miles as my emeritus. It’s an honor to follow in his footsteps, stand on his shoulders.”