TAMPA — The installation ceremony Sunday evening honoring Joshua Hearshen as the new rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom wasn't just about him, but the introduction of a new chapter in the synagogue's 110-year history in Tampa.
"We haven't had that many rabbis in our history," installation co-chairwoman Margot Marcadis said.
"The Jewish community is part of the whole community. When you install a rabbi, that rabbi becomes a member of the general Tampa community as well."
Hearshen, 34, a native of Detroit and a graduate of Michigan State University, has been with the congregation since July 15. But Sunday's installation marked his formal welcome into the community.
"In a Jewish congregation, we don't have a central authority who sends us clergy," president-elect Laura Kreitzer explained. "We select our clergy and they select us. We want to give the momentousness of our a choice a fitting introduction."
The congregation, at 2713 Bayshore Blvd., celebrated its 110th anniversary in August. It is one of about a dozen Jewish congregations in Tampa, including orthodox, reform and conservative.
A couple of hundred people attended the ceremony for Hearshen. Guests included U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; and Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen. Rabbis and leaders from other synagogues also came to support their neighboring congregation.
Castor issued a three-pronged challenge to Hearshen: engage the youth, continue a strong history of leadership within the community and encourage engagement with Israel.
Buckhorn praised the congregation's role within Tampa, acknowledging about a dozen of members present at the installation who made substantial contributions not just within the synagogue, but to Tampa as a whole. "It's important that the synagogue survive and grow and young people come back to the synagogue," Buckhorn said after the ceremony. "I think having this young rabbi here will be a breath of fresh air."
Hearshen's speech focused on the importance of education, while also recognizing the need to reinvigorate the synagogue and explore the role of conservative Judaism. "I pledge to never lose my love of learning and growing," he told the congregation. "Conservative Judaism isn't dead. It's an incredible way of observing Judaism as it calls on us to address modernity and never ignore it."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.