natalie behring

The First Rabbi In Pocatello
Location: Idaho/ Wyoming
Nationality: USA
Biography: I became a photographer by lucky accident in China in 1996. I walked in to the Reuters Beijing Bureau asking if they might want to buy a photo, and walked out with a job. The first major story I covered was the Hong Kong Handover. Since then this... MORE
Public Story
The First Rabbi In Pocatello
Copyright natalie behring 2023
Updated Aug 2023
Location Pocatello, Idaho
Topics Community, Documentary, Editorial, Feminism, Holocaust, Journalism, Judaism, Leadership, Photography, Photojournalism, Portrait, Portraiture, Religion, Religious minorities, Reportage, Technology
This June the Jews of Pocatello got a rabbi after 100 years of having only lay leadership. Sara Goodman recently moved to Idaho from Chicago with the intention of filling the role. She studied and was ordained via Zoom to serve the small congregation in a state where 0.1% of the people are Jewish.
The small congregation of Temple Emanuel , in the hard-nosed town of Pocatello, Idaho recently celebrated its centennial. Since Jews started settling in southeast Idaho in the 1880s, the community has only ever had lay leadership. Occasionally rabbis from Salt Lake of elsewhere might have visited for special occasions, but for the most part, the temple goers have been on their own and refer to their practice as “DIY Judaism.” (Frank Rich wrote about this for the Times in 1995 )

The remote state of Idaho is populated with just 1.8 million inhabitants - many of whom are conservative Christians, has a very tiny Jewish community,  with an estimated 2125 Jews, making up 0.1% of the population.

But this June, the Jews of Pocatello finally got a rabbi - Sara Goodman. Goodman recently moved to Idaho from Chicago with the intention of filling the role. She studied and was ordained via Zoom. She studied online with the Rabbinical school JSLI Jewish Leadership Studies Institute led by Rabbi Steven Blane in New York City.

Goodman’s course took about ten months, or two semesters of intense study to complete. A small class of eight students  located across the United States met once a week on Zoom. The ordination took place in mid-June, like the lessons, on Zoom. Goodman’s family gathered with her in her living room, around her laptop to be there in person, and watched the ceremony on a big screen TV.
Later that week Goodman delivered a sermon as an official rabbi with about 15 people in attendance. Goodman said she thinks it’s important that small, remote Jewish communities can have rabbis through programs like the one she completed, “Someone who lives out in the mountains, or out in the middle of nowhere, they could go through a program themselves online, or find a rabbi who is ordained. I think it’s a beautiful thing. “

Rabbi Blane agrees and says he founded JSLI as a response to the lack of institutions being able to accept mature students that wanted to become rabbis, people that had some skills, but didn’t have the time or money to attend mainstream seminaries. Blane says those people, “basically had to be sublimated to the idea that they could never ascend to become spiritual leaders.” For tiny Jewish communities like Pocatello to finally have their own rabbi Blane says, “It’s liberating. It’s Empowering. For people to be able to not be dependent on the mainstream Jewish world to grow, they can find leadership within their own communities. People who have skill-sets, who they trust and value already”
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The First Rabbi In Pocatello by natalie behring
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