Congregation Etz Hayim improvises without a rabbi

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By Elisa Posner

Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington finds itself in the unusual position of being between rabbis. The Conservative congregation gave a sendoff to Rabbi Lia Bass on June 30.

Now members are waiting for their new rabbi, Natan Freller, who is not a U.S. citizen, to receive his work visa.

While Freller is sidelined, congregants are able to  continue with services and communal events .

Etz Hayim president  Michael Stein said members are making do by leading services. Stein chants from the Torah weekly during services, conducted on Zoom.

“We had always had a strong core of leaders,” Stein said.

A rabbi’s job is more than leading services, and in other matters, lay leaders have had to improvise.

Earlier this month, when a synagogue member died, the family approached Stein and said they wanted a rabbi to conduct the funeral. Stein said he hired a local rabbi to officiate.

“We wanted to make sure that the family felt properly taken care of,” Stein said..

Stein said community members can ask him questions they’d normally ask a rabbi. For the upcoming high holidays, Stein said he anticipates services on Zoom. If they don’t have a rabbi by then, Etz Hayim’s lay leaders are prepared to lead the services.

Stein said they can’t make big decisions about communal issues. The best they can do is deal with each issue as it presents itself.

“We don’t know what we need to do until we find out what it is,” he said. “We just have to feel it out and deal with situations as they arise.”

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