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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Rabbi helps seniors with life transitions, also serves Reform congregation

With Jewish Family Services, Rabbi Tamar Malino helps seniors and their families transition from more to less independence.

With Reform Congregation Emanu-El, she sees her role as helping offer the Jewish community in Spokane a diverse option for expressing their religion and culture.  She values both the Conservative and Reform traditions.

Rabbi Tamar Malino
Rabbi Tamar Malino serves Jewish Family Services and Congregation Emanu-El in Spokane

As director of the Spokane Area Jewish Family Services (SAJFS) and part-time rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El, she seeks to strengthen the Jewish community in the region.

In October 2010, Tamar began as director of Jewish Family Services, which started in 1998.  She shares an office at Temple Beth Shalom with assistant director, Iris Berenstein. 

In 2011, she began working at Congregation Emanu-El, creating a religion school program for the 50-family congregation.

The focus of Jewish Family Services is on senior services and their families.  Both Tamar and Iris, who began with SAJFS in 2009, go on home visits.

“Both seniors and their families find it tough to acknowledge the senior’s increasing frailty,” Tamar said.  “Today’s generation of seniors lived independently and have a fighting spirit that makes the transition harder, sometimes to their detriment.”

They struggle with taking medicines and with giving up driving.

“Family members are reluctant to enter into a power struggle with their parents.  Family want to respect their parents’ dignity as they give up each level of independence,” Tamar pointed out.

Those for whom the transition is smoothest planned ahead, making arrangements for when they were less competent.  Many left their homes and moved into smaller homes or into living situations with graduated care.

Jewish Family Services also helps seniors know their options financially and how to handle the financial pieces of their lives.

“In our society, we often give the message that ‘if you’re not useful, you’re not worthy.’  The message from the religious community is that everyone is created in the image of God, deserving dignity, respect and care at any stage of life,” Tamar said.

Older people can still communicate their love and can focus on the relationships they have and their families,” she said. 

Similarly, Tamar and Iris help seniors and families see that the love and care they give each other are what’s most important.

They serve 90 people, mostly Jewish, filling their needs, providing information and referrals, and helping with transportation to medical visits.

Jewish Family Services also helps coordinate with the Mitzvah Corps, which provides meals, and has a small food pantry.  SAJFS also assists some people with rent and utility bills, but mostly does case management and referrals. 

Because the Jewish community in Spokane is too small to support a Jewish Federation, which in other communities sponsors cultural events, SAJFS helps sponsor an annual Jewish Film Festival, a PJ Library that sends free Jewish books to children, and includes social and educational programs such as a recent children’ sing-a-long in Manito Park.

Tamar then told of her work with Congregation Emanu-El.

“I have an affinity for both Conservative and Reform Judaism.  My family was involved in both,” said Tamar, who grew up in a Jewish family in Greensboro, N.C.—the daughter and granddaughter of rabbis who are also committed to Jewish pluralism. 

“In an area such as Spokane with a small Jewish community—about 400 families—she believes it’s important to support everything that is going on.  Temple Beth Shalom has about 206 families affiliated, she said.

I hope there is a place for everyone who wants to be involved religiously and culturally in the Jewish community,” she said.  “Diversity and choices are good.”

The 50-family congregation formed in 2008, a merger of two Reform congregations—Beth Haverim and Ner Tamid.  Both began meeting in the 1990s.  Each affiliated with the Union of Reform Judiasm in 2001 and 2002 respectively. 

In 1965, Spokane’s Reform Temple Emanu-El—formed in 1890—and Orthodox Temple Keneseth Israel—formed in 1901—merged to form Temple Beth Shalom.  They met at the Unitarian Universalist Church until their building was completed at 1322 E. 30th Ave.

Tamar is the first resident ordained rabbi for Congregation Emanu-El—albeit working quarter time—which meets at the Unitarian Universalist Church. Previously, rabbinical students helped serve the congregation.

After she completed a degree in Judaic, Near Eastern and religious studies in 1994 at Oberlin College in Ohio, she spent a year at the Pardes Institute in Israel, studying Jewish texts, solidifying her decision to enter rabbinical studies.

She studied a year at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City, but completed her studies in 2001 at the Reform Seminary, Hebrew Union College also in New York.

Tamar then spent eight years serving as rabbi of a congregation of 650 families in San Diego.  It was one of 20 synagogues in the city.  She served two years in the San Francisco Bay area before moving to Spokane. 

“Being small, Congregation Emanu-el is nimble and can experiment,” she noted.  “We can try something and if it doesn’t work, we can change it.”

She knows that many Jewish families in the area are affiliated, so there is a role for the Reform congregation reaching out to those who have not found a connection.

Tamar described some of the differences between Conservative and Reform Judaism:

• Conservative Judaism advocates adhering to a historically evolving version of traditional Jewish law, and Reform advocates studying Jewish law and teachings to inform people’s choices on their practices.

• There’s a difference in worship style and use of Hebrew in worship:  “Conservative congregations use more Hebrew, and Reform use English and Hebrew, with more vernacular liturgy and contemporary music and poetry,” she explained.

• The Conservative tradition considers someone Jewish if their mother is Jewish or they convert.  In the 1970s, Reform Jews began to accept someone as Jewish, if either parent is Jewish and they are raised Jewish. 

“Emanu-El welcomes interfaith families, given Spokane’s demographics,” she said.  “A majority of the congregation are in interfaith families.”

• There are also differences in celebrating the high holy days.  For example, both traditions encourage fasting for Yom Kippur,” she said, but Conservative may speak more of “having to” fast and Reform may say people “should” fast.

Another difference is that Conservative Jews usually celebrate one day more for High Holy Days, two days for Rosh Hashanah or Jewish New Year, compared to Reform celebrating one day.

“Those living outside Israel are to add one day to Holy Days,” she said, “but the Reform movement focuses on calculation of time based on the 21st century.”

After Rosh Hashanah come ten days of repentance and then Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.”

The Jewish faith uses a lunar calendar with a solar correction nine out of every 17 years, shes said, so all the holidays are in the same season.  In contrast, she said Muslims also use a lunar calendar without the correction, so their holidays move around the year.

At Emanu-El, Rosh Hashanah services are Sunday evening and Monday, Sept. 16 and 17, Yom Kippur services are Wednesday evening and Thursday, Sept. 25 and 26, a Sukkot celebration is Sunday, Sept. 30, and Simchat Torah is Sunday evening, Oct. 7.  Emalnu-El will also offer a “Taste of Judaism” class in the fall.

As a member of Temple Beth Shalom, rabbi of Congregation Emanu-el, and director of SAJFS, she wants to help the Jewish community in Spokane flourish.

For information, call 747-7394 or email director@sajfs.org or Congregation Emanu-el  835-5050.  info@spokaneemanuel.org.