Rabbi Shimon Moch joined our Temple Beth Ora team in April 2014.
Below is an article published in the Edmonton Jewish News and written by Debby Waldman:
Growing up in Hartford, Connecticut, Rabbi Shimon Moch fantasized about going north – really far north. It’s taken a lifetime, but that dream is finally coming true.
Rabbi Moch, who has spent much of his professional life serving congregations south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the United States, will become Rabbi at Temple Beth Ora, Edmonton’s Reform congregation, in April.
“This seems to have been beshert,” says Rabbi Moch, who visited Edmonton for the first time last summer, before TBO even advertised for a rabbi. He was en route to the Rockies and had purchased a plane ticket to Calgary. He had to change planes in Edmonton en route, but it was Stampede Week and there were neither hotel rooms nor rental cars available in Calgary.
Knowing that difficulty lie ahead, he decided to jump plane in Edmonton and was impressed with what he saw. “The city is large enough to offer big-city amenities, but maintains a smaller city feel,” he says. “The cultural life abounds. Edmonton has a real Jewish community with an organized life. The city and surrounding area are physically attractive.”
The area he’s leaving is also physically attractive – St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he’s been rabbi at The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas since 2008. The congregation, which was founded in 1796 (but has roots dating to the 1680s), makes its home in what Rabbi Moch describes as “a magnificent Spanish/Portuguese-style synagogue built in 1833.”
Living in the Caribbean has definite advantages – for instance, on the day that Rabbi Moch answered questions for this interview, it was more than 30 degrees warmer in St. Thomas than it was in Edmonton. But weather isn’t everything.
As beautiful as the U.S. Virgin Islands are, at 13 miles long and three miles wide, St. Thomas is “a small world,” Rabbi Moch says. A city such as Edmonton offers the sorts of cultural and social opportunities that Rabbi Moch has missed. And Edmonton is a lot closer than St. Thomas to Rabbi Moch’s three grown children, who live in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. His only grandson is in Colorado.
“I clearly need to be nearer to my three children and grandchild,” Rabbi Moch says. “I overshot them a bit, landing in Edmonton, but I am happy that I will be much closer and in a real city with beautiful mountains not far away and the allure of ‘the north,’ still beckoning to me.”
The north isn’t all that has beckoned Rabbi Moch since childhood. You could also say that the rabbinate did. Rabbi Moch’s parents, z”l, told him that when he was in first grade he used to wake them on Sunday mornings to bring him to religious school. As a high school student, he was intensely involved with the Reform movement’s youth group, the National Federation of Temple Youth. That, followed by “a life-changing year in Israel left no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be studying Judaism and sharing my excitement about it with others.”
In rabbinic school, Rabbi Moch liked nothing better than immersing himself in sacred texts and finding wisdom and relevance to modern life hidden in the words of Torah, Talmud, and midrash. Upon graduating from the Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in 1978, he interviewed for a job in Anchorage, Alaska. He was thrilled. His dream of living in the far north was about to come true. But his wife had just given birth to a first grandchild, and to say the grandparents were not thrilled is an understatement.
“My parents were in mourning. My in-laws, who lived in Guatemala, but were from Germany and Poland, sat in dejection, mumbling ‘Siberia. Siberia.’ We decided instead of Anchorage to take our first congregation in Winston-Salem, N.C., somewhere between Connecticut and Guatemala.”
Once serving in a congregation, Rabbi Moch quickly learned that what mattered most, “and what clearly I was called to do, was to be with people through the joys and sorrows, tribulations and accomplishments of life, to help them sanctify every important moment in their lives, and help them sense God’s presence with them always. I also came to a new understanding of my role as rabbi in helping to bring a community together in worship and to give them perspectives with which to wrestle through the issues and challenges of life.”
Rabbi Moch is looking forward to building a relationship of sacred shared work with the TBO community, and to meeting the challenges of starting fresh with a new congregation. And as much as he’s excited about finally realizing his childhood dream, he’s realistic enough to know there are challenges in that as well.
“As a young man growing up in Connecticut, I loved winter the most of all seasons,” he says. “Now that I’m no longer that young man, and having lived in Florida and the Caribbean for the past 23 years, it will be interesting to see how my older body will embrace winter!”
For more about our Rabbi, check out our “Get to Know Our Rabbi” Interview post.