April 9, 2020
“Bashert” is the word most often used to describe the coming together this year of Congregation Or Hadash and its new rabbi, Lauren Henderson. “She’s our bashert,” say Or Hadash’s search committee co-chairs Gita Berman and Lynn Epstein, months after Henderson replaced founding Rabbis Analia Bortz and Mario Karpuj, who moved to Israel.
And it seems to be mutual. In early December, Henderson told the AJT, “I feel so blessed to be part of such a strong congregation. So many people have stepped into leadership roles, making phone calls to connect with our entire membership, running trivia programs and movie nights, creating gift bags and more.”
This was not a foretold conclusion. It’s not easy to replace popular rabbis like Bortz and Karpuj, who had led the congregation for nearly 18 years. But Berman and Epstein – both past presidents of the congregation – knew what they were looking for. “We were looking for our bashert and sometimes that takes time,” Berman said last spring upon the announcement that they had signed a three-year contract with Henderson to start in July.
It actually took only seven months before Henderson was chosen from 17 rabbis who applied for the position.
On a weekend in late February – before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down community gatherings – Henderson visited Or Hadash. “Thankfully, Rabbi Lauren was able to visit and spend Shabbat with the Or Hadash community just before the March shutdown. It was one of the last weekends we were together in-person. During her visit it was obvious that we were bashert,” said Epstein.
When the search committee afterwards surveyed congregants to ascertain their opinions of Henderson, fully 93 percent said they would be as involved or more involved in the synagogue headed by Henderson. Those congregants, however, had no idea how the year would unfold under a longer and wider spread-than-expected pandemic.
“It’s definitely been challenging, trying to find creative and safe ways to connect with everyone while we’re all distanced,” Henderson said. “In some ways, the pandemic has opened up new possibilities for us to radically reimagine things like high holiday services. Many people told us that they were surprised at how connected and engaged they felt through Zoom during the high holidays. Using the technology we had and by pre-recording many parts of the service, we were able to include so many congregants chanting and teaching Torah and sharing their gifts with the wider community.”
According to Berman, “If we were able to go back in time to do this again, we would definitely choose Rabbi Lauren again.”