Woman Serving as Brunswick Temple's 1st Rabbi in 50 Years; Congregation Used to Schedule Events around Visiting Rabbis

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson

ST. SIMONS ISLAND | Rachael Bregman knows she doesn't fit most people's concepts of a rabbi, at least as seen on TV.

"They're always old men with earlocks. They're called peyas,'' she said of the strands of uncut hair in front of the ears. "That's spelled p-e-y-a-s ... maybe. I know how to spell it in Hebrew."

Bregman is a 36-year-old divorcee who left Atlanta three weeks ago with her rambunctious 8-month-old dog Safi, a pit bull-ridgeback-Lab mix, at least those are the breeds Bregman thinks she has identified.

Bregman knows big-city life, having grown up in Boston and lived in Atlanta, but she was drawn to Brunswick by the size of Temple Beth Tefilloh, a Union of Reform Judaism congregation chartered 127 years ago.

"There are 54 families. To me that's the way Jewish life should be, relational Judaism,'' she said. "It's not just true for Judaism; it should be true for all religions."

Most people grew up in institutional churches and synagogues and now people want the interpersonal relationships they find in small congregations, she said.

If not being the congregation's first resident rabbi in 50 years weren't enough, she is also the first female rabbi many have seen.

"a'I didn't know we had female rabbis,'a'' she said of people's reactions. "I get that all the time. I fly in the face of people's concepts."

Growing up in the Northeast, being a woman in religious leadership was not the same issue it's been in the South, she said.

"Something that was normal becomes a lens everyone sees you through," she said. "All of a sudden, it wasn't I was a rabbi, I was a female rabbi."

If it's a problem, Bregman doesn't show it. She smiles with amusement at those encounters.

She grew up in Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley, where Rabbi Lawrence Kushner led the small congregation. But since then, Kushner is known throughout the faith because of his prolific writing and avid speaking, she said.

In Brunswick, she will be a part-time rabbi conducting two Friday night services each month in the temple that is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

There is more to the building that the beauty of its interior.

"There's a cornerstone in the building with a time capsule that the congregation put in to be opened in 200 years. That takes a lot of bravery,'' she said of the long time span.

Also, there are five Torahs, a lot of holy texts for such a small congregation, she said.

Two of them are "pogrom Torahs" small, concealable scrolls that were used between the 1600s and 1800s when being Jewish was a death sentence in some areas of Europe, she said. …