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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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New rabbi welcomes appointment to Jewish Reform congregation

Congregation Emanu-El, the Reform Judaism congregation in Spokane, has hired part-time Rabbi Tamar Malino. (Dan Pelle)

The Jewish Reform Congregation Emanu-El’s new rabbi arrived just in time for the High Holy Days which begin with Rosh Hashanah on Monday.

“I am really happy for the opportunity,” Tamar Malino said. She’s also the director of Jewish Family Services and jokingly refers to herself as a quarter-time rabbi because she juggles time between her two jobs.

“Of course, once you are a rabbi you are always a rabbi,” she said, smiling.

Miriam Berkman, president of Congregation Emanu-El’s board, said before hiring Malino the congregation used mostly student rabbis who’d travel to Spokane from Los Angeles once a month.

“Having the student rabbis has been a great experience,” Berkman said. “But it’s just wonderful to have someone who lives here; someone who is more accessible.”

Malino was born in Connecticut, and grew up in North Carolina. She went to rabbinical school in New York City, after which she spent 10 years in California, first in San Diego and then in the Bay Area. She moved to Spokane with her partner Elizabeth Goldstein two years ago. Goldstein is also a rabbi and teaches theology at Gonzaga University. Together, Malino and Goldstein have four young children: two sets of twins that are 6 and 3 years old.

“I moved here primarily for my family,” Malino said. “When you have four small children it’s more comfortable being in a smaller town.”

Yet moving to Spokane after living in large metropolitan areas was a bit of a culture shock.

“What struck me most is the much smaller Jewish community: We don’t have a Jewish day school, we don’t have a Jewish community center,” Malino said. “Things are just more complicated in terms of community resources than they are in a larger city.”

Jewish Family Services functions much like any other religious charitable organization, providing emergency help, a food bank and senior services. Malino said she spends a lot of time helping families that are transitioning parents and older relatives into assisted living facilities.

From a traditional Jewish perspective a person’s needs should be cared for by the community, said Malino, and she’s very comfortable that her two jobs allow her to serve the Jewish community in many ways.

“I feel lucky,” Malino said. “At Jewish Family Services I get to deal with practical needs, and at Emanu-El I get to take care of spiritual needs. I just hope I can be there for everyone.”

Being a female rabbi is not unusual within the Jewish Reform movement, Malino said. The first woman Reform rabbi was ordained in 1972 and by the time Malino decided she wanted to pursue that path, there were many other female rabbis.

“It never struck me as unusual because I grew up with it,” she said, adding that there’s still work to be done to ensure gender equality within the Reform movement. “We joke about hitting the stained glass ceiling within the movement.”

About 43 families belong to Emanu-El and the congregation worships at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Fort George Wright Drive. Berkman said the first synagogue in Spokane, opened in 1892, was a Reform congregation and that Emanu-El is named after it.

“I love that heritage and respect it,” Malino said. “And I think we have an exciting future ahead of us.”