Temple Isaiah has a new rabbi. Rabbi Karen Thomashow was hired as Senior Rabbi after the retirement of Rabbi Howard Jaffe, who was in the role for more than 20 years. Rabbi Thomashow comes to Temple Isaiah after serving as an associate rabbi at the Wise Temple in Cincinnati and Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. She will be the first woman to lead the Reform Jewish congregation of nearly 800 families, following in the footsteps of other women clergy at the synagogue, including Associate Rabbi Jordana Schuster Battis and Cantor Lisa Doob.

Rabbi Karen Thomashow, center, with associate Rabbi Jordana Schuster Battis and Cantor Lisa Doob

Q: What led you to become a rabbi? 

A: The short story of what led me to become a rabbi is twofold: I had a meaningful upbringing in a wonderful Jewish community that inspired me to want to live a professional Jewish life. I traveled to Israel in the summer before my junior year of high school and while on the trip witnessed a number of rabbis comfort a friend who experienced a tragic loss and was moved by the roles they filled and the wisdom they shared.

Q: How do you see your role in the community, both the Temple Isaiah community and the larger Lexington community?

A: Some of the earliest outreach I have benefited from is from members of LICA, our interfaith clergy community here in Lexington. I am honored to serve as a clergy person in our special town. Outward facing leadership is one of my responsibilities. My role in the Temple Isaiah community at this time is to get to know the members of our congregation, our history and culture, and over time lead and co-lead with my lay and professional colleagues toward the future that is inspired, connected, and authentic to this moment in time. 

Q: Tell us about the Jewish concepts of Tikkun Olam and Tzedek, and how you see the Temple Isaiah community fulfilling those commitments? 

A: Temple Isaiah has a significant history of leadership in the areas of Tikkun Olam (Social Action) and Tzedek (Justice and Charity). It is one of the reasons that I was attracted to apply to the congregation. Since my arrival last month, I have been touched by the number of volunteers, efforts, and opportunities through Isaiah. 

Q: Temple Isaiah is part of the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project, an LGBTQ Safe Zone, and a stigma free zone. Tell us a little about what all that means and why inclusion is important to you and your faith. 

A: Judaism has many texts and values that undergird the importance of inclusion. That inclusion is a significant part of Temple Isaiah’s moral fiber is another reason that I was attracted to come to Temple Isaiah. One of the earliest verses in the Torah describes humanity as being made “in the image of God.” Seeing as all human beings are made in the image of the Divine, it reinforces the belief that everyone, with our varieties of ability, is holy. 

Q: There have been some instances of anti-semitic speech here in Lexington recently, including a recent incident of anti-Semitic graffiti at the Cary Library, and of course horrific events on a national level. As rabbi, how will you respond to incidents like that, and perhaps more importantly, try to help prevent them? 

A: Anti-Semitism is one of the many isms and phobias that plague our society. I do not ever feel comfortable turning an eye away from Anti-semitism, racism, homophobia, among others. One element of prevention is creating communities that do not tolerate hatred of any kind. I am proud that lay and professional members of our congregation have responded privately and publicly to recent incidents. 

Q: What role do you see faith communities playing in today’s society? 

A: I am a firm believer that faith communities are the ones who will lead our society forward in a variety of ways, including social action and modeling the possibility of civil discourse. I also believe that at his moment in time, after the depths of Covid, that connection/community and finding meaning in this world is ever-necessary. Faith communities like ours provide this at our best.

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  1. What a joy it is to read the words of Rabbi Thomashow who so lovingly supported me, my wife, and our son in our journey as part of the young family community at Wise Temple that she nurtured and lead so brilliantly even through the pandemic. In the past 10 years of teaching on the faculty at HUC-JIR, Cincinnati, I certainly had many opportunities to make my formal conversion and I was surrounded by rabbis who have been my students and now are my teachers, and senior faculty colleagues with deep wisdom. Rabbi Thomashow in her brilliance, compassion, and kindness drew on the strengths of our whole community and brought myself and my son into the Jewish people. I wish you all fullness of blessings in the future you will build with her.

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