Rabbis Say Farewell to their Congregations

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In the early days of Congregation Kol Ami, Rabbi Elliot Holin kept the synagogue’s Torah scroll in his home.

Holin helped found Kol Ami 24 years ago, and congregants wanted to first create a strong sense of community before taking the step of securing a building. Holin said a challenge at the time was finding locations for services and for the religious school, which they held at Abington Friends School, Gratz College and other area sites.

Congregation Kol Ami’s Rabbi Elliot Holin | Photos provided

“It was very exciting,” Holin recalled. “You were creating something from nothing. There was a sense of the will to succeed, the excitement of creating community. On the other hand, you were constantly on the move.”


More than two decades later, Holin will retire at the end of June. The synagogue held a celebration for him on May 12 at the National Museum of American Jewish History. He will be replaced by Rabbi Leah Berkowitz, who grew up in Broomall.

As it turns out, this summer will see many local rabbis starting new chapters of their lives, whether in retirement or just a pulpit in a new community. While Holin is retiring, Congregation Adath Jeshurun Rabbi Rachel Kobrin and Adath Israel Rabbi Ariella Rosen are leaving for other positions.

Other rabbis leaving include Congregation Beth El Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg, who did not respond in time for publication. Congregation Beth Or Associate Rabbi David Gerber, who will be replaced by Rabbi Jason Bonder, is leaving for a position at Congregation Gates of Prayer in New Orleans.

Holin moved to Philadelphia in 1984, and worked as the associate rabbi for Congregation Rodeph Shalom until 1994. He felt it was time for him “to go to grow” and, at first, he thought the next step in his journey would either be to start writing children’s books or do voiceover narration work.

But a week after leaving Rodeph Shalom, he received a phone call from some community members about starting a new synagogue.

He decided to meet with them, just to see where it led.

“That was the launch point, was just this incredibly creative Jewish opportunity to forge community, a community of faith,” Holin said. “It was remarkable, and it became one of the best experiences of my life.”

Founding a new synagogue, Holin said, the community really got to decide for themselves what they wanted the culture of Kol Ami to be like. Because of the congregation’s small size, there was also a strong need to rely on one another and for the members to create and take part in their own programming.

In 2006, they finally moved into a building on High School Road in Elkins Park.

“I’ve grown into my rabbinate,” Holin said. “I’ve grown in my love of Judaism. I’ve grown in my love for the Jewish people, here at the synagogue and beyond. That’s because I’ve become really aware of what it means to begin, sustain and nurture a community. The effort that takes, the commitment that takes on the part of many people, in a lot of ways, we’re like a family.”

Adath Israel’s Rabbi Ariella Rosen

On the Main Line, Rosen is leaving Adath Israel after three years, though she hasn’t decided where she will go next. Rabbi Andrew Markowitz, who is from the area, will replace her.

“It’s been a great experience of learning and being here,” Rosen said. “I’ve become a much better rabbi and human being, just by working in this community. I’m looking to do a different type of work right now. I’m just feeling drawn to different kinds of contexts and settings for what it means to be a rabbi in our day and age.”

Looking back on her brief tenure, Rosen said she has become more comfortable speaking, teaching and figuring out how to bring her best self into a variety of contexts.

She said some of her proudest accomplishments include helping to develop a women’s Rosh Chodesh experience and Lower Merion Area Hebrew High.

“I’m also just proud of being able to show up for people in different moments and be able to help make sure their experience is meaningful and special for them,” Rosen said. “That’s not a resume accomplishment in the same way, but it feels bigger to me than some of these other things.”

After four years, Kobrin is leaving Adath Jeshurun. She will head to Denver, where she will be the rabbi at Rodef Shalom. Adath Jeshurun will have a part-time interim rabbi, while Cantor Howard Glantz remains in his full-time capacity.

Rabbi Rachel Kobrin

“I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to serve Congregation Adath Jeshurun,” she said. “My favorite moments involve the relationships I built with people, the opportunities we created for deep spirituality and learning and social activism. I have loved … truly getting to know and love the … people of AJ and being in their lives — sharing times of joy and struggle in the ebb and flow of being human.”

Kobrin said she has loved teaching her Living Judaism class and niggunim at Adath Jeshurun, providing opportunities for activism through AJ Acts and building Moed in Center City.

She said moving to Denver felt like the right step for her in her rabbinic journey. She was struck by the energy and vibe of the congregation while visiting and felt that leading Rodef Shalom was the challenge and opportunity she was looking for.

“I am leaving so many people I love, and my children are as well,” she said. “And yet, this opportunity feels incredibly exciting. We are all evolving, and my leaving is a part of my evolution as a rabbi, and AJ’s evolution as a community. AJ will always be a part of my story, and I feel privileged to be part of AJ’s 160-year story as well.” 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Rabbi Seth Frisch is a wonderful very passionate, very caring person who says what he actually believes, and cannot be manipulated to say what a small number of congregants wish to dictate. God Bless the rabbi, and hopefully he will be much more appreciated elsewhere.

  2. How many of those who support BDS worry a lot about “the poor Palestinians” suffering from the militaristic Israelis?

  3. The narrative regarding Rabbi Holin is untrue [“But a week after leaving Rodeph Shalom, he received a phone call from some community members about starting a new synagogue. He decided to meet with them, just to see where it led.”] because, during the year prior to his departure, RS’s chief rabbi was aware of his plan to initiate a new synagogue venture, prompting him ultimately to forbid him to perform rituals alone.

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