Well known teacher, artist, activist and writer Rabbi Pamela Gottfried is taking on a totally new role at Congregation Bet Haverim as its second rabbi, splitting her time between leading and teaching congregants and working with and meeting unaffiliated Jews in the community. The new program is called “Your Jewish Bridge: New Pathways for Your Jewish Connection”.
As a fixture of the Atlanta Jewish community for 20 years, Gottfried is an active member of Rabbis Without Borders — she traveled to the Southern border with other Atlanta-area rabbis and educators in December — and is a volunteer and supporter of the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN). Her most recent position was dean of Jewish studies at The Weber School.
“I was really happy teaching and I loved my job at Weber, and I wasn’t really looking for a job,” she said, “but when I found out about this position, I was really drawn to it.”
Most of Gottfried’s experience has been as an educator, which she’ll continue within the congregation, but much of the excitement for her was in being a resource for those who are not synagogue members.
“It was a direction that I was working in and moving in even as I was a classroom teacher,” she said. “And this particular blend, this dual portfolio really allows for a lot of flexibility and creativity in outreach.”
Beyond simply the age of the students, Gottfried is excited by the prospect of merging her education skills with pastoral work she was already doing.
“At Weber it was a lot of curriculum development, and we were able to integrate a lot of arts into Jewish education,” she said. “But when you’re a full-time teacher and rabbi in a high school setting, adult education and pastoral work is not as mission-driven.”
In terms of her outreach to the unaffiliated Jews of Atlanta, Gottfried emphasizes it isn’t about simply encouraging them to join a congregation or to celebrate their milestones, instead her focus is about providing them a resource for all their Jewish needs.
“I think the external portfolio really provides a lot of reach. It’s not just about marrying them and burying them, but about providing access to Jewish education that meets their needs,” she said.
Noting that there is a lot of restructuring in the Jewish community, Gottfried explained that many aren’t formally connected to a single synagogue or congregation.
“All of us would love to have the luxury and ability to do more work with these people,” she said. “But when you’re so connected to an institution — employed, for lack of a better word — it can be hard to dedicate time to reach out.”
The position was in part funded by both a PROPEL Innovation Grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, and a Reconstructing Judaism innovation grant, said CBH Executive Director Amy Robertson.
“There are people who need a rabbi or want to be connected in some other way,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s really important that not only CBH, but Federation and other arms of the Jewish community create these roles.”