Friday, November 7, 2014
Welcome, Rabbi Karen Bender
The Los Angeles Jewish Home is proud to welcome Rabbi Karen Bender as the Jack H. Skirball Director of Spiritual Life. In this position, Rabbi Bender will help us determine and maintain what makes the Jewish Home Jewish.
Rabbi Bender comes to the Home with twenty years of rabbinical experience. Following her graduation in 1988 from UC Berkeley with a degree in Political Science, she went directly into rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). For the first year, she studied in Israel, as is traditional for this program. Internships led her to Arizona, Idaho (where she was the only rabbi in the state), and Manhattan. After graduation, she served as rabbi at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, Long Island for seven years and then for thirteen years at Temple Judea in Tarzana.
During rabbinical school, Rabbi Bender took some time to study in an Orthodox environment in Jerusalem. "It gave me an opportunity to find some balance … and to live in Israel again," she explains. Israel has a special place in Rabbi Bender's heart: her parents were born there and met and married while serving in the Army. During her childhood, the family visited there regularly.
In addition to her traditional rabbinical studies and responsibilities, Rabbi Bender is a published author of sermons, poems, academic articles and original prayers. In a new edition of the Reform movement's Rabbi's manual, five of her poems will be included. Over the years, she has been deeply committed to social justice causes, including overcoming prejudice and taking responsibility for the poor and homeless. Rabbi Bender has also been a dedicated leader in bridging the gap between faiths, ethnicities and cultures.
The San Fernando Valley Jewish community — including the Jewish Home — has played an important role in Rabbi Bender's life. Her family are longtime members of Valley Beth Shalom, where her mother taught for fifty years. As a child, she participated in a program through Na'amat and would visit the Jewish Home, playing her guitar for residents. As an adult, she brought her children to the Home to sing for residents. And now, she is part of the Jewish Home family … it must be beshert!
Rabbi Bender has always been drawn to seniors. "My grandparents were in Israel, so I didn't get to be with them often," she explains. "My great-grandparents perished in the Holocaust, so there was an absence of elders in my life. I often "adopted" my friends' grandparents to fill the void. Now I have a windfall of wise and wonderful seniors!"
"Here at the Home, I want to continue the wonderful legacy that Rabbi Anthony Elman has created," says Rabbi Bender. "I hope to establish meaningful relationships with our residents and to offer them learning opportunities in addition to spiritual care." She is also interested in the well-being of employees at the Home. "I am very impressed with the morale here," she says. "Everyone seems to feel deeply recognized for playing a part in something important. I want to help sustain that and to understand what that means to individuals on their own spiritual path and how their experience here touches their lives."
Rabbi Bender has many hobbies. They include a variety of outdoor activities, such as wake boarding, river rafting, biking, and horseback riding, often with her three children, ages 16, 14 and 10. "Family is very important to me. My parents and two brothers live in the area, so we all often spend time together." She enjoys theatre and music. She has played seven instruments over the years and is currently taking saxophone lessons. Rabbi Bender is engaged to Ali Sagadencky, a rabbinical student.
On behalf of the residents and staff of the Los Angeles Jewish Home, we welcome Rabbi Bender to our family.