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Rabbis making history


Vered Harris

“I think the real story is that 100 percent of the city’s congregational rabbis are female,” said Harris, who joined B’nai Israel on July 1. “I celebrate the day that female rabbis aren’t a news story, though.”

Harris will work closely with Jacobson. The two share many of the same goals for both their studies and their pastoral work: “We are both committed to a vibrant, multi-faith community.”

Originally from California, Harris completed her rabbinical training at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. She called her time there her entrée to the Midwest.

“After Cincinnati, I served as education rabbi to a congregation in Kansas City,” she said. “I moved to Oklahoma City to become a pulpit rabbi.”

Her immediate predecessor at B’nai Israel, Barry Cohen, served for eight years; the temple had only three rabbis in the century prior.

“This is a congregation that values what each rabbi has brought,” Harris said. “Each rabbi has been different, but the congregation valued each of their contributions. They genuinely value a rabbi who works in the larger community, and not just the interfaith community, but Oklahoma City overall.”

Harris had never been to Oklahoma City prior to her interview for the position. Still, she knew what to expect. The president of her Kansas City congregation, Michelle Cole, had grown up in OKC; Cole’s mother, Carol Reznik, is a past president of Temple B’nai.

“[Cole] briefed me on what a warm, welcoming congregation this is,” said Harris. “They are enthusiastic; they care deeply about their Jewish identity and their role in Oklahoma City.”

In addition to getting settled, Harris and her husband Benji have been busy making a new home for their family. Their two older daughters, 9 and 12 years old, attend school in Edmond; the youngest, 3, is in Erna Krouch Preschool at Temple B’nai Israel.

“From the beginning of the High Holy Days through Thanksgiving, a rabbi can’t take a breath,” Harris said. “It’s the nature of the rhythm of this job. I’m finally getting to the point where I can assess what’s coming next.”

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