Imagine living in a place where the public school bus drops your kids off at the synagogue on days when there is Hebrew school, and where each community, no matter how small, has its own Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations.
Such a thing is unheard of here in the Bay Area, but soon it will be a reality for Rabbi Evan Goodman and his wife and two sons, who are leaving San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Israel-Judea after seven and a half years there and five and a half years before that at Congregation Beth El in San Mateo.
The rabbi has taken a position as senior rabbi at Temple Israel in New Rochelle, N.Y., a Reform congregation with 720 families in Westchester County, a short commute from New York City.
Though Goodman was born in New York, his family moved to Los Altos when he was 8. He grew up at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, with Rabbi Emeritus Sidney Akselrad, who was a great influence on his career path.
Goodman hoped to return to the Bay Area right after rabbinical school.
“It’s really been a blessing to be in the Bay Area for so many years while my kids were growing up,” he said. Many rabbis move around every few years, and we’ve been fortunate to be here with my parents and other family close by.”
However, the thought of living among the country’s largest Jewish population is a big draw, as is the excitement of New York City so close by.
Also, his wife, Lori, who has worked 13 years in the Jewish community here, most recently in the North Peninsula division of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, is looking forward to continuing her career in Jewish communal service among the wide variety of Jewish institutions in New York.
Goodman spent his time as assistant rabbi at Beth El working mostly in education, and by the time he moved to BIJ, he had some big shoes to fill, since his predecessor, Rabbi Herbert Morris, had been there over three decades.
But he managed to do so, and even introduce some new things while he was at it.
Cantor Henry Greenberg also retired a few years ago, after being there for over 25 years, so BIJ was not used to having young faces on the bimah.
“I learned a lot from each of them and feel good about helping the congregation with the transition after the two of them had been there for so many years,” he said.
Goodman worked hard to make services more accessible, by introducing new prayer books, new and improved transliterations, and a band made up of congregants, including some teens.
All of this “ensures that people who have a serious Jewish education or none or are non-Jews can feel comfortable at our services,” he said.
Adult education also increased under Goodman’s leadership, with an annual retreat at Asilomar and a Torah study class.
The rabbi also led a synagogue mission to Israel.
“I took returnees as well as first-timers when the tourism had not yet returned,” he said. “We felt good about supporting Israel at a time when the hotels were still pretty empty.”
Goodman has also really enjoyed working with the teens of the congregation, leading trips to Washington and Los Angeles and returning in his rabbinical capacity to Camp Swig — which he attended himself — and Camp Newman. He expects to do the same at the Reform camps on the East Coast.
A tribute dinner for Rabbi Evan Goodman and his family will take place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday June 3 at the Westin San Francisco Airport Hotel, 1 Old Bayshore Highway, Millbrae. $65. For information, call BIJ at (415) 586-8833.