Rabbi Rachel Safman
A native of Gaithersburg, Maryland, where she attended and taught in the congregation now known as Kehillat Shalom, Rabbi Safman first trained for a career in academia, studying at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Cornell. She wrote her dissertation on the AIDS epidemic in Northern Thailand and after graduation joined the faculty of the National University of Singapore.
During her years in Singapore, Rabbi Safman served as the president of the city-state’s progressive Jewish community, the United Hebrew Congregation; was an active participant in the ritual life of Singapore’s Baghdadi Orthodox community; and co-founded Gesher, a Jewish community forum that hosted eminent guest speakers, including Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong. She was also tapped to participate in the Nahum Goldmann fellowship program, an initiative designed to recruit and empower young Jewish leaders from more remote Jewish communities.
The fellowship had its desired impact and in 2008 then-Professor Safman decided to make the jump from academia to the rabbinate in order to devote her energies to the Jewish community full-time. She enrolled in the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies (American Jewish University) in Los Angeles, where she received smicha (ordination) and joined the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in 2013.
Following ordination, Rabbi Safman assumed the pulpit of Congregation Beth El in New London, Connecticut. During her seven-year tenure there she pioneered (in 2015) the use of streaming technologies to reach out to congregants unable to participate in worship and learning in person; expanded social and educational programming to reflect the diversity of the Jewish cultural experience; and introduced ritual and liturgical innovations that broadened the community’s appeal to younger families. As co-convenor of the Greater New London Clergy Association, she facilitated the resettlement of half-a-dozen Middle Eastern refugee families in Eastern Connecticut.
In 2020, amidst COVID, Rabbi Safman moved with her family to Ithaca, New York, where she assumed the pulpit of Temple Beth-El and guided the congregation in the adoption of streaming technologies and other responses to the pandemic. She also launched initiatives including Scientists in Synagogues, through which she partnered with congregants in programs comparing Jewish and secular approaches to topics including organ transplantation, abortion, and the origin of the cosmos and an Artists exchange with partners in Ithaca’s sister city, Dimona, Israel.
Rabbi Safman is a firm believer that Judaism can be both relevant and empowering in the modern world if it is rooted in continuing study of our tradition’s texts, tenets and rites. She endeavors through her teaching, conduct of ritual and involvement in life-cycle events to equip community members to take ownership of our ancient inheritance, which remain vibrant when it inspires us as we seek answers to contemporary challenges and helps us to express the full range of human experience.
Rabbi Safman is also passionate about community-building. She seeks to grow congregations not just in numbers but also in the extent to which the community’s supportive embrace is felt by all individuals who gravitate to our (temporarily virtual) gates to learn, celebrate and pray. She is determined that our houses of worship be homes, too, to people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds: women and men, old and young, single and partnered, gay and straight, able-bodied and physically/emotionally/ cognitively challenged, Jewish by birth or by choice, and those who are not (or not yet) Jewish.
Rabbi Safman is married to Daniel Robinson, an Israeli national who writes travel guides to Western Europe, Israel and Southeast Asia for Lonely Planet and other publishers. They are parents to Yair (aged twelve), Sasson (aged six) and Talya (three years).