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New Springfield Rabbi Settling In, Preparing for Yom Kippur

Bailey Wiles

Barbara Block says she’s been warmly welcomed by everyone in the community. KSMU’s Bailey Wiles sat down with the new Rabbi amid the High Holy Days to learn more about her journey to the region.

Rabbi Barbara Block says that as a reform Jew, she believes that one can change certain aspects of Jewish traditions, but at its core is a concern for humanity.  

“Leviticus 19, the center of our Torah, states that you shall love your neighbor as yourself and also states that you shall love the stranger as yourself. Judaism is about how to achieve that and how to achieve a better world,” Block said.

Block grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania as the daughter of Jewish parents who were refuges from the Holocaust. It wasn’t until later in her adult life that she considered becoming a rabbi, and entered rabbinical school at age 50.  

“That involved a year living in Jerusalem and then four years in Cincinnati. My first job was in Billings, Montana I was a rabbi for a congregation there and after four years I have come to Springfield.”

Block’s inspiration and role model was Rabbi Stacy Offner, who was the first female to become a rabbi in Montana.

Block was hired by Temple Israel in Rogersville to replace Rabbi Rita Sherwin, who retired after 20 years of service. Block stated that she has been embraced by the community and feels incredibly welcomed.

“This is a wonderful community. The Jewish community here is very warm and welcoming and has a rich community life and I have been delighted to be able to serve here.”

Since assuming her new role on July 1, clergy from area churches have met with Block, and she’s looking forward to meeting with more in the coming months.

Right now, Block is busy with the High Holy Days, which includes two of the most important holidays within the Jewish calendar.

“Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the bookends of a 10-day period called Yamim Noraim, ‘The Days of Awe.’ Rosh Hashanah literally means the ‘Head of the Year,’ we call it the New Year, but it is very different from the secular New Year, in that we are not partying and staying up until midnight. It’s a time for introspection, for looking at our lives and assessing where we are and where we want to go.”

Yom Kippur begins Friday night and continues until sundown on Saturday. Yom Kippur is also known as “The Day of Atonement” and includes fasting, prayer, and multiple services at the synagogue within a roughly 24-hour time period.

“For things that have gone wrong between a person and God, Yom Kippur atones. But for things that have gone wrong between two people, Yom Kippur does not atone until they have made peace with each other.”

Block asks that people outside the Jewish faith do not attend this Friday for Yom Kippur, but are welcome during other normal Friday Sabbath services.

“Our regular Friday night worship service is open to all who wish to come in good faith. Anyone who wants to come and listen and learn is welcome to attend our services.”

Block hopes that as a rabbi she can help shape the Reform Jewish tradition and pass what is most meaningful in Judaism down to others in the community and to the next generation.