August 26, 2020
When Rabbi Josh Hearshen took over in July as reportedly the first non-Sephardic rabbi in the 106-year history of Congregation Or VeShalom, he faced some uncertainty over how the congregation would accept him and how he would adapt to a practice of Judaism that was somewhat different than the one in which had been trained. But after nearly six months on the job he no longer has any apprehensions.
When the AJT spoke with him earlier this month he said his new job, even during this difficult year, is “working out beautifully.”
Hearshen elaborated, “We’re all Jewish so that’s the basic way of coming to the table. The liturgy is unique, and I’ve spent much time reading and learning and meeting with people. But at the end of the day those religious practices are not presenting themselves as a deterrent to understanding the congregation.”
He’s been having regular public interviews with the synagogue’s members from diverse cultural backgrounds, from Central Asia, in one instance, or from the Eastern Mediterranean, in another.
And he’s been talking a lot online about food.
“This Sephardic synagogue, in particular, is very proud of its heritage in terms of food. And one of my one of my favorite hobbies is cooking. So I cook online for our members.”
What he said when we first interviewed him in August stills seems to hold true. With a new job and a new baby that was adopted in January, his family life couldn’t be better.
“The reality is, for us, it’s been an incredible year. We had a great year as a family.”
Nonetheless, he admits that taking over as a new rabbi during a public health crisis has been difficult.
“Judaism is such a communal experience and COVID is such a killer in that aspect. We do as much as we can online, but it is definitely a challenge.”