Birmingham congregation swaps rabbis with Aussie shul

After conducting her farewell service at the the city's Progressive synagogue, Rabbi Margaret Jacobi will switch pulpits with an Adelaide congregation's minister


Birmingham Progressive Synagogue’s rabbi, Dr Margaret Jacobi, conducted her farewell Shabbat service last weekend after 28 years in the role.

But thanks to a job swap with an Australian shul’s rabbi, the 250-household community will at least have a short-term replacement.

From Purim, Rabbi Jacobi will spend three months with Beit Shalom Progressive Synagogue in Adelaide while the Beit Shalom minister, Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky, takes her place in Birmingham.

The two have been friends since studying together at an American rabbinical college in the late 1980s.

“It’s an opportunity for adventure and for exploration,” Rabbi Jacobi told the JC. “I also have family in Melbourne I’ve never met.”

American-born Rabbi Kaminsky has worked in Australia for 16 years and has not visited Europe since 1993.

She said the logistics of the pulpit swap had been challenging.

“But a colleague of mine once told me that it is part of our work as rabbis to always be finding ways to renew our work. So when Rabbi Jacobi introduced me to the idea, I saw it as an opportunity to be exposed to something completely different.

“I’m so excited to meet a new group of people with a different way of doing things. I will probably do a lot of listening.

“My congregation is also excited about the pulpit swap and Rabbi Jacobi is a wonderful teacher.”

She added that Rabbi Jacobi would be leading “a remarkable community of about 200 people. But because we’re so small, there are no services available. If you want challah for Friday night, you bake it yourself. There is no kosher restaurant, no kosher delis.

“But I’ve enjoyed that so much that I have stayed here all this time.”

Many friends and family were among the Birmingham Progressive congregation for Rabbi Jacobi’s final service. “I talked about the past and the future and what a privilege it is to be a rabbi, to have a pulpit and to accompany people at significant moments in their lives,” she said.

She was presented a book of photos and mementos from her three decades at the shul.

Originally from London, Rabbi Jacobi grew up within Southgate Progressive Synagogue, where her father was rabbi, moving to Birmingham in the late 1970s. She studied medicine, married and started a family.

“I have been very happy here in Birmingham,” she reflected. “It’s been such an interesting place to be a rabbi. There are such wonderful people here and the city itself has kept its comfortable and non-pretentious charm all these years.

“We have built a very warm and welcoming community, working closely with interfaith organisations, with refugees and with people of all ages. We have watched people grow up and become adults themselves and have children, supporting and celebrating them all the way.”

Rabbi Jacobi will return to Birmingham after her Australian excursion and looks forward to exploring “new possibilities”.

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