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Rabbi Rachel Safman - Congregational Rabbi

Rabbi Rachel Safman’s arrival at Temple Beth-El completes a round-trip journey that began almost three decades ago when she arrived at Cornell as a graduate student in Development Sociology (PhD, ’02) and first davened (worshipped) at TBE.

In subsequent years, Rabbi Safman conducted extensive field research in Thailand and Myanmar, wrote a dissertation on the impact of the AIDS epidemic on rural Thai communities, was tapped as an expert on avian influenza (bird flu) by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,  and served on the faculty of the National University of Singapore, where her focus was on the response of families and communities to health crises.

During her years in Singapore, Rabbi Safman served as the president of the city-state’s progressive Jewish community, the United Hebrew Congregation; was an active participant in the ritual life of Singapore’s Baghdadi Orthodox community; and founded and led Gesher, a Jewish community forum that hosted eminent guest speakers, including Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong.   Seeking to devote her energies to the Jewish community full-time, in 2008 she decided to leave academia to study at the Conservative Movement’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies (American Jewish University) in Los Angeles.  Following ordination, she served as the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in New London, Connecticut for seven years, during which she pioneered the use of streaming technologies to reach out to congregants unable to participate in worship and learning in person; expanded social and educational programming to reflect the diversity of the Jewish cultural experience; and introduced ritual and liturgical innovations that broadened the community’s appeal to younger families. Rabbi Safman was also co-convenor of the Greater New London Clergy Association and, in this capacity, helped launch the resettlement of half-a-dozen Middle Eastern refugee families in Eastern Connecticut.

Rabbi Safman is a firm believer that Judaism can be both relevant and empowering in the modern world if it is rooted in continuing study of our tradition’s texts, tenets and rites.  She endeavors through her teaching, conduct of ritual and involvement in life-cycle events to equip community members to take ownership of our ancient inheritance, which remains vibrant when it inspires us as we  seek answers to contemporary challenges and helps us to express the full range of human experience.

Rabbi Safman is also passionate about community-building.  She seeks to grow TBE not just in numbers but also in the extent to which the community’s supportive embrace is felt by all individuals who gravitate to our (temporarily virtual) gates to learn, celebrate and pray.  She is determined that Beth-El (literally, “house of God”) be a home, too, to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds: women and men, old and young, single and partnered, gay and straight, able-bodied and physically/emotionally/cognitively challenged, Jewish by birth or by choice, and those who are not (or not yet) Jewish.

Rabbi Safman returns to Ithaca in the company of her family: her Israeli husband, Daniel Robinson, a travel writer who covers Western Europe, Israel and Southeast Asia for Lonely Planet and other publishers; their children Yair (aged nine), Sasson (aged four) and Talya (seven months); and Rachel’s mother, Edie Safman. 

Sat, June 10 2023 21 Sivan 5783