Olympia rabbi among America’s most inspiring

Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia has been nominated as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis. He is shown in the temple sanctuary on Friday.
Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia has been nominated as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis. He is shown in the temple sanctuary on Friday. toverman@theolympian.com

Olympia Rabbi Seth Goldstein has been named one of America’s most inspiring rabbis.

The honor comes from Forward, the national independent Jewish newspaper, which was founded in 1897.

Goldstein, 42, has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Hatfiloh since 2003. His nomination included accolades for fostering inclusion for anyone who identifies with the Jewish community, for leadership in the interfaith community, and for leadership on the topics of marriage rights, gun control and advocacy for the homeless.

“Newsweek used to run a Top 50 US Rabbis feature every year that was chosen by (usually) one or two men in New York. Four years ago, we had a vision of the grassroots choosing the rabbis that inspire them,” said Dan Friedman, Forward’s managing editor.

“We received hundreds of nominations and we chose the 32 most compelling of them from all over the country. We were, of course, excited to see that rabbis are taking a stand and making a difference for communities around the country and in places small and large. Rabbi Goldstein seems to be a unifier, while at the same time being clear about what he himself stands for.”

Goldstein said of the honor: “I think that my continual challenge is to think about how to be able to reach people in new and different ways and meet people where they’re at.”

Goldstein estimates Olympia’s Jewish population at about 1,500, with 150 households affiliated with Temple Beth Hatfiloh. According to a 2013 study by the American Jewish Population Project, the state’s Jewish population is about 41,000 adults by religion, with fewer than 1,300 in Thurston County, or about 0.5 percent of the county’s population.

Temple Beth Hatfiloh is a reconstructionist congregation, one of the smallest of the four main Jewish denominations, Goldstein said. Reconstructionist Judaism is about 100 years old and came out of the conservative movement, Goldstein said.

“It’s almost a sociological approach,” he said. “The religion is an expression of the Jewish people and evolving Jewish civilization.”

He continued, “We are charged as Jews to engage in Tikkun Olam — repair of the world — and work toward justice. I definitely see my role as a rabbi to engage in that work. Some is direct service to people in need, like the food bank and homeless shelter, and part is to create societal change. To be able to work on issues such as marriage equality and gun safety and economic justice has been an honor and a privilege to use my role and traditions to affect positive changes.”

That is part of what prompted Temple Beth Hatfiloh member Craig Wallace to nominate Goldstein.

“He is not just a pulpit rabbi, but one who demonstrates by his actions what his words mean,” Wallace said in his nomination.

“I don’t think people are connecting to religious communities in the way of generations past,” Goldstein said. “But the interest is still there in terms of spirituality. (The question is) how to reach people in ways that make sense.”

As part of his outreach, Goldstein uses social media, including a blog.

“If I have a message I want to convey, I can’t just wait for people to show up at my door or to synagogue, but people are interested. So the ability to use these platforms to post on my blog and connect on Facebook or throw out pictures on Instagram ... that’s how we’re orienting ourselves in life, and I think that religion is a part of that.”

Jerre Redecker: 360-754-5422, @jredecker