Alaska Gets First Full-time Civilian Rabbi

Rabbi Lester Polonsky became the first full-time civilian rabbi for this city’s Temple Beth Sholom when he was installed last Friday. Although it is a Reform congregation, the rabbi, who arrived here last July with his wife, Helene, and their young son, Seth, from Queens, New York, said, “we will service whoever wants to be served.”

Temple Beth Sholom was organized in 1958. Over the 20 years until Polonsky arrived here, the congregation had been dependent on services of the Air Force rabbi assigned to Elmendorf Air Force Base. Polonsky has the double distinction of being the first civilian rabbi in Alaska and of having his first full-time congregation.

Polonsky began his rabbinical studies with a year at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem in 1973. A native of Boston, he graduated from high school in 1969 and attended DePaul University and Spertus College of Judaica in Chicago for three years, graduating from both in 1973. During his studies at Hebrew Union, he saw a list of congregations in need of rabbis “and on the top, in alphabetical order, was Anchorage, Alaska,” he told The Anchorage Times. During a trip to Anchorage last April he said he fell in love with Alaska.

While this is Polonsky’s first full-time congregation he had served as a rabbi earlier. While in rabbinical school in New York he traveled every two weeks to serve as rabbi in Macafee, New Jersey, and also served as a rabbi to a congregation at the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged in New York, he told The Anchorage Times.

Polonsky’s duties here include working with the congregation’s adult education program and its religious school. The school had been meeting only on Sundays, but will now meet twice a week, he said. He will also work with the youth group at the temple and with the congregation’s Bar and Bas Mitzvah classes and conversion classes.

In his letter of acceptance of his position at the temple, written to Ray Ellis, president of Congregation Beth Sholom, Polonsky wrote that he looks forward to this new position “with great excitement and high hopes. With the cooperation of the congregation, we will continue to build a strong Jewish community in Anchorage.” Polonsky was installed by Rabbi Morris M. Hershman of San Francisco, the regional director for the Northern California and Pacific Northwest councils of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

There will be no Bulletin dated November 23 due to Thanksgiving, a postal holiday.

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