Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills advanced her community leadership skills through the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s 2016 Edah Rabbinic Fellowship. Thanks to her coach, she is empowered to lead her congregation to greater community engagement inspired by her Jewish values.

When Rabbi Sarah Bassin joined Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills as Assistant Rabbi in 2014, the community was in the midst of an exciting time of transition. Rabbi Laura Geller was retiring from her role as Senior Rabbi after 22 years of dedicated service. During those years, Geller had helped shape an amazing temple community, one that embraced diversity, drew participants from all religious backgrounds, and championed the idea that Judaism today was “alive, changing, and vibrant.”

Joining the clergy at Temple Emanuel was the perfect next step for Rabbi Sarah. Her previous experience as a religious and community leader, including her role as Executive Director at NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, fueled her “passion for intercultural exchange and social justice.” By 2016, Rabbi Sarah had helped lead the temple into a new era of community service and engagement. She embraced opportunity wherever she could find it, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’s 2016 newly-launched Edah Rabbinic Fellowship program. The fellowship is designed to help rabbis transform their synagogues and appeal to the emerging generation of millennials. Successful applicants would be matched one-on-one with an ESC consultant for seven months of intensive leadership coaching, while also participating in group training seminars with other Edah fellows.

Upon acceptance into the fellowship program, Rabbi Sarah’s priority was to “build community with other rabbis across denominations and work together to do innovative work throughout the City of Los Angeles.” She was open to learning as much as she could in order to lead her congregation toward greater engagement not only within their temple but also with the community at large. She prioritized the expansion of the temple’s Community Engagement & Social Justice Program, introducing diverse issues such as Jewish-Muslim relations, homelessness, criminal justice reform, and even water conservation.

Rabbi Sarah was matched with ESC consultant Hugh Leonard as her coach. As a retired Catholic priest who served as a missionary in Japan for many years, Hugh empathized deeply with Rabbi Sarah’s aims, “We shared a set of common values, so I understood her urgency to contribute to society through the Jewish belief system.”They met in person at least once a month for one-on-one coaching. Rabbi Sarah says that working with Hugh helped her remain accountable to the high goals she set for herself. While she felt equipped to lead the congregation, she said “Coaching helped keep me from being complacent. I wanted not only to function well as a leader but also succeed at how I functioned!”

For Rabbi Sarah, Hugh modeled “groundedness and introspection.” With his guidance, she began to better understand her leadership strengths, including her strong work ethic and intelligence. She identified her challenge as “making Judaism relevant in the 21st century.” Hugh helped Rabbi Sarah think through this challenge and understand how important it was for her to keep asking questions and expanding the different ways she could connect Jewish traditions to the contemporary world.

Rabbi Sarah rose to the challenge. In her sermons and blog posts today, she tackles topics ranging from Black Lives Matter to refugee resettlement to social media and more. She has helped launch the temple’s web series whose videos feature prayer, sermons and songs (including Rabbi Sarah’s personal project, the Tipsy Torah series!). As she sees it, “Temple Emanuel is my laboratory”—a place to test and explore ideas with an open, curious mind. Through her rabbinic work she continues to bring diverse experiences to her congregation, encouraging members to engage with each other and the world in new ways. She is eager to keep the ideas flowing. To maintain the momentum, Rabbi Sarah still meets with the other fellows she met in Edah, and she has re-contracted with ESC to continue Leadership Coaching with Hugh.

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Group photo credit: Tara McVicar Photography.