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Jewish learning Beacons of Hope: Our Interreligious S/Heroes — Rabbi Claudia Kreiman

By Kyle Desrosiers

Every month, we honor an individual (or group) who inspires the bridge-building efforts of the Miller Center. Each honoree uniquely embodies the values of compassion, justice, and inclusivity. Rabbi Claudia Kreiman, the Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Zion in Brookline, MA, is our Beacon of Hope for the month of October.

Last week I attended the Kol Nidre service of Yom Kippur at Temple Beth Zion (TBZ) in Brookline, MA for the second consecutive year. I was delighted to witness the sincerity, warmth, and palpable joy in the sanctuary on what is considered the most intensive day of soul searching during the Jewish year. The service was enthusiastically shepherded by Rabbi Claudia Kreiman, the temple’s senior rabbi, who reminded all who gathered for this sacred ritual about the need to return (teshuvah) to our true selves and to recommit to the ongoing project of mending the world.

As a Roman Catholic who attended the service with my mostly secular Jewish Israeli partner, I felt genuinely welcomed by the warmth of the community and the accessibility of the liturgy, as well as a sense of the presence of the Divine and affection for the timeless wisdom of the Jewish tradition. The profundity of my experience was due in no small part to Rabbi Claudia’s dynamic, caring, and passionate presence.

It is my honor, therefore, to name Rabbi Claudia our October Beacon of Hope. She is a person whom we Catholics might affectionately refer to in English as a “pastor,” that is, a shepherd (ro’eh in Hebrew) of souls. Indeed, her enthusiasm is contagious: indelible in my memory is witnessing my partner Sagi’s first experience of Rabbi Claudia leading worship from the bimah (lectern), clad in her colorful clothing and white tallit (prayer shawl), jumping for joy during parts of the Kol Nidre service. He was similarly moved to witness a Jewish religious community in which people of different genders, ages, and backgrounds were actively participating in the service. I was delighted because my partner was delighted that Rabbi Claudia took such delight in the midst of this day of atonement!

One of the first things Rabbi Claudia mentioned during her Kol Nidre remarks was her appreciation for the presence of converts to Judaism and of non-Jewish family and friends. She emphasized the role that solidarity among the Jewish community and non-Jewish allies play in in the long and arduous fight against antisemitism, racism, and other injustices. She names this commitment as a testament to the resilience and strength of the Jewish community and of humanity as a whole. I was deeply moved by her candor and inclusivity. As a Christian involved in a romantic relationship with a Jewish man, her comments allowed me to take pride in my presence on this sacred Jewish occasion.

Rabbi Claudia is no stranger to the call to marry tradition and innovation. She was the first Chilean-born woman to be ordained as a rabbi, receiving her semichah from the Conservative Movement in Jerusalem in 2002. Rabbi Claudia draws inspiration for her rabbinical work from her late father, Rabbi Angel Kreiman-Brill (of blessed memory), Chief Rabbi of Chile, who raised her in Santiago under the repressive environment of Chile’s dictatorship, inspiring her vision for social justice from a young age. After her graduation from high school, she moved to Argentina and there began to engage deeply with Judaism, both as a learner and as a teacher. When her mother was murdered in the 1994 terrorist attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) bombing in Buenos Aires, Rabbi Claudia decided to commit her career to Jewish spiritual and cultural leadership to honor her mother’s legacy, and spent years studying in Israel.

Rabbi Claudia has since lived and served in Jewish communities in Argentina, Chile, Israel, and the United States. In 2019, she became the first woman senior rabbi and first rabbi of Latin American origin at Temple Beth Zion.

Because September 15 to October 15 marks Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States (Mes nacional de la herencia hispana), it is also important to acknowledge that Rabbi Claudia has also long been an advocate for diversity and inclusion within the Jewish community and in the broader society. I first learned about these commitments when hearing Rabbi Claudia speak at the annual conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ), co-hosted by Hebrew College in June 2023. She spoke passionately about how she roots her identity in Jewish and democratic values, seeking to help create a pluralistic ethos in her synagogue community and in Greater Boston in partnership with other religious and cultural leaders.

Rabbi Claudia serves on numerous boards including  T’ruah—The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She also serves as the co-chair of the New England JStreet Rabbinic Cabinet. She brings her commitment and enthusiasm to the Brookline Clergy Association and Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Her spiritual and ethical leadership is a gift to TBZ, to the broader Boston Jewish and interfaith communities, and to the city as a whole. She has also touched my life and that of my family. For these reasons, Rabbi Claudia is our Beacon of Hope this month.

Kyle is an MTS student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Originally from North Texas, Kyle joins the Miller Center after two years spent in Israel, where he completed a Fulbright grant in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, receiving an M.A. from Tel Aviv University. Since his undergrad years at Baylor University, Kyle has been involved in interreligious community building through Interfaith America. He is also a free-lance religion journalist. Kyle enjoys art, science fiction novels, hiking, and spending time with animals.

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