Taking hold Tuesday and Wednesday, Yom Kippur marks the conclusion to the High Holy Days and is considered the holiest day in Judaism.
A Phoenix synagogue’s new senior rabbi is guiding her congregation through this season of renewal and communal healing that began on Rosh Hashana on September 25.
Rabbi Emily Segal started July 1 at Temple Chai, located at 4645 E. Marilyn Rd. Segal, 38, was ordained in 2010 and spent 12 years as a rabbi for congregations in Colorado and the Chicago area.
“I knew that I was ready for a new opportunity and to be part of a robust and caring Jewish community,” Segal said. “I knew that I wanted to be part of a congregation that was looking toward the future and dreaming about what Judaism can be like for the next generation.”
Founded in 1976 and comprised of about 550 households, Temple Chai is a Reform synagogue whose members are of different ages, sexual orientations and gender identities.
"It’s a truly inclusive and welcoming place for folks of different backgrounds and different identities and people seeking to be part of Jewish community regardless of what led them to this moment,” Segal said, adding the house of worship has "seen a flurry of new members join since July 1.”
Observers regard Yom Kippur as a homecoming and this year’s celebrations at Temple Chai reflect that sentiment, Rabbi Bonnie Koppell said. Koppell is Temple Chai's associate rabbi and has been a member of the synagogue for 16 years.
Koppell said the pandemic posed a challenge for Temple Chai during Yom Kippur last year and the year before as the synagogue navigated from in-person worship to services exclusively virtual to a combination of the two. Though still accommodating to congregants more comfortable with services streaming online, the High Holy Days have seen more congregants return in person, she shared.
This past Rosh Hashanah, “everyone who walked into that room was there to be happy,” Koppell said.
And this season’s homecoming at Yom Kippur has only been further enriched by Rabbi Segal. The synagogue went nearly a year without a senior rabbi after the congregation’s faith leader departed due to family obligations.
“It was a difficult transition when our previous senior rabbi left, so I think (Segal) being here is a part of the healing process for the congregation looking forward,” Koppell said.
Koppell expressed admiration for the new rabbi.
She said Segal is “wise beyond her years” and an “emotionally present” rabbi imparting leadership “in a way that makes it easy to receive.”
Temple Chai’s lay leader, David Weiner, 66, said Segal effectively reinstituted social action and youth programs foundational to the house of worship after they began to languish during the pandemic.
Segal has guided the synagogue forward through her strength in establishing interpersonal relationships, Weiner said.
“She’s a great listener,” Weiner said. “She just has a real, natural gift in how she relates to people.”
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Yom Kippur marks homecoming for Phoenix synagogue Temple Chai