PLATTSBURGH — The High Holidays were on the horizon as Rabbi Emma Gottlieb arrived at Temple Beth Israel here.
"It was in some ways trial by fire," she said, "and in some ways the perfect way to get to know the community."
The High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — are a time when Jews examine their lives, make reparation.
"You really get a sense of who everybody is," the rabbi said.
She used the opportunity to introduce herself more completely to her congregation, which numbers about 80 families.
"Hineni," she told those who filled the temple for the Rosh Hashanah evening service. "Here I am."
The sacred Hebrew word was uttered at the start of that evening's service in Plattsburgh, she said, just as it was at synagogues around the world.
Thirteen times, the rabbi told her flock, Hineni is found in the Torah. God used it to get Noah's attention as he warned him of the flood to come.
"In the biggest test of Abraham's life — the test of the sacrifice of (his son) Isaac — ... God calls to him, 'Avraham! Avraham!' and Abraham responds 'Hineni,' Here I am!
"Not only is Abraham answering the implicit question 'Where are you—' Gottlieb said in her sermon, "but he is also affirming his readiness to do God's will."
She has done the same.
Gottlieb, 29, was chosen rabbi in May ahead of the departure of Rabbi Andrew Goodman, who has returned to the world of academia. She expected to come to Temple Beth Israel from her native Toronto, Ontario, in July.
Getting here proved a bit complicated, however.
"In the past year or so," she said, "they changed the process for (foreign) clergy to work in the United States. The congregation had to go through a lengthy application process."
The OK didn't come until August; the rabbi finally crossed the border mid month, when she dove right in to High Holiday preparations.
Ordained in May, she welcomed the opportunity to serve the temple in Plattsburgh.
"I was very ready not to be in the big city anymore," she said. "Everybody is so welcoming — it's a really refreshing change.
"I like the small-town feel and the fresh air."
Temple Beth Israel is the only synagogue north of Glens Falls in New York state with a full-time rabbi, but Gottlieb will network with the rabbis who serve part-time.
"Luckily, I already know some of the regional rabbis," she said of those further south. "I have a pretty good system of support from school and family."
Her father, Daniel Gottlieb, is a rabbi, too.
There are times in the midst of a service when she hears her father's inflection, his very words in her own delivery.
She and her dad are of one mind on many things, she said, but as any father and daughter do, they have their disagreements as well.
"We have a lot of really good conversations," she said.
She's looking forward to inviting him as a guest teacher at the synagogue.
Oct. 22, at the 7:30 p.m. service, he will preside over her installation at Temple Beth Israel.
"I think there will not be a dry eye in the house," she said, laughing.
At first, she had pursued cantorial studies, driven in that direction by a musicality she also shares with her dad. But in her first year at Hebrew Union College in New York City, she felt called to something more.
"I wanted to be a little more immersed in the learning and teaching of Judaism."
The five-year rabbinic program was rounded out with several internships; she recently completed two years at a synagogue in Rye.
Gottlieb Jr. (her dad is Gottlieb Sr. when needed to avoid confusion) has found she can blend her two passions, that of music and teacher, often leading services with her guitar.
"Luckily, we have a congregation that likes to sing along," she said.
LIVING THE LIFE
Her other interests are many and varied, as she told her congregation on Rosh Hashanah.
"I have lived in Israel and in the Big Apple," she said. "I care about the environment but sometimes I forget to bring my reusable bags when I go shopping. ... I am a lover of babies, cows, furry animals and the occasional reptile."
She also loves to ski.
"But I'm not very good at it," she said in a recent interview.
She enjoys knitting, crocheting, embroidery and needlepoint.
"One of my congregants has offered to teach me how to quilt."
There's a quilt on the wall that greets those who enter the synagogue's back entrance, made in 2005 by children of Temple Beth Israel, their handprints preserved in fabric paint. Some are now young adults in the congregation.
Plattsburgh's new rabbi embraces the family atmosphere; she sees her job as building on foundations already in place.
"I'm really excited to start living the life and not just learning about it."
E-mail Suzanne Moore at: firstname.lastname@example.org