At Temple Rodef Shalom, farewell to a rabbi

Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein. Courtesy of Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein

In Rabbi Amy Schwartzman’s telling, Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein came to Temple Rodef Shalom a decade ago to fill in for an absent member of the clergy staff and proceeded to make herself indispensable.

Last weekend, Schwartzman, the rest of the clergy team and the Falls Church congregation as a whole honored Bernstein on her retirement.

“After over 10 years of leading worship, teaching classes, facilitating life cycle events, organizing trips, counseling, and supporting the mission of our congregation, Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein will retire,” the rabbis and cantors wrote in Temple Rodef Shalom’s newsletter Connection. “Rabbi Bernstein will be sorely missed by so many in the Temple community but most of all, she will be missed by the four of us, her clergy colleagues.

“When Rabbi Bernstein arrived at TRS to offer some support during a rabbinic sabbatical, we were grateful to have a qualified and kind colleague join our staff,” wrote Schwartzman, Senior Cantor Michael Shochet, Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe and Cantor Rachel Rhodes. “We thought this three-month relationship would be a wonderful help as well as an opportunity to be inspired by a new clergy perspective.

The contract was for a few months, “but in the end, we didn’t part ways. TRS found more and more reasons to keep Rabbi Bernstein. Within our clergy circle, we benefitted so much from her presence, her calm style, her clear thinking and most of all, her wise counsel. With no ego but a huge amount of energy and generosity, Stephanie very quickly became a valued team member, confidant and friend to all of us.”

Following are the clergy members individual thoughts about Bernstein:

Senior Rabbi Amy Schwartzman

“The following teaching from Pirke Avot comes to mind when I reflect on my relationship with Stephanie: ‘Find yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend and judge each person according to their own merits.’ I have learned so much from Stephanie while benefiting from her friendship along the way. She models rabbinic integrity in every way, and I strive to emulate so many of her qualities.”

Senior Cantor Michael Shochet

“I will always cherish Stephanie’s friendship and counseling. Her soothing pastoral presence, mixed with her former work as a mental health professional brought such comfort and solace to our members to whom she counseled. She has been a gift to Temple Rodef Shalom and to me personally.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe

“In addition to Stephanie’s friendship, pastoral presence and teaching, she brought to us a strong and steady voice for justice, playing particular roles in pursuing women’s equality and marriage equality in the larger community. She also took a leadership role in the Washington Board of Rabbis. Stephanie has been a true friend and colleague, always thoughtful and empathetic and ready to laugh as well. She could always be counted on for help, moral support and sound judgment.”

Cantor Rachel Rhodes

“I recall the first time I led a funeral with her. At the intake, she listened so attentively to the family and made them feel both comforted and stewarded through the process of mourning. Her rachamim, kindness, is something that stays with me to this day.”


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