She Loves What They Argue About at Mishkan

Rabbi Linda Holtzman, the new religious leader of Mishkan Shalom, a Reconstructionist congregation in Roxborough, wasn't exactly a stranger to the community before she started work there last month.

In fact, four years ago, Holtzman — or Rabbi Linda, as most congregants call her — actually served as interim rabbi while the synagogue searched for a permanent religious leader. And in the 1990s, Holtzman ran Mishkan's religious school while her older son was a student there. (Holtzman and her partner, Betsy Conston, have raised two grown sons.)

And she's certainly no stranger to the Philadelphia area in general, where she's spent her whole life. From 1979 to 1985, she served as rabbi at Beth Israel Congregation in Coatesville, and later led Beth Ahavah, a Center City congregation, geared toward the gay and lesbian population, which is currently housed at Rodeph Shalom.

But now, after years of teaching students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College the ins and outs of congregational life, Holtzman is returning to the pulpit herself. She'll still teach a class at RRC, though she's stepped down as director of the practical rabbinics program.

"This is a very full-time congregation. I really needed to put all my time and energy into [it]," said the 55-year-old Mount Airy resident.

Holtzman said that one of the reasons she decided to make the switch is because she enjoys the diverse, vibrant religious community at Mishkan.

"I love what people in this community argue about," she said. "It's not about whether something is kosher or nonkosher. It's whether or not we can have a greater impact in the world if we do project A or project B. It's 'How can we, in our Jewish lives, make a big difference in the rest of the world?'

"It is not a congregation that is satisfied with services that are very beautiful," she continued. "There has to be a connection between spiritual life and making a difference in the world."

Holtzman said that she hopes to help continue the synagogue's tradition of serving as a place for open and frank dialogue on political and social issues, both domestically and vis-à-vis the Middle East.

"This is a community of people who deeply love Israel, who care about it tremendously, and who were often upset about things that the Israeli government was doing," said Holtzman. "A critique out of love is part of where this community began."



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