by Melissa Hunter, Assistant Editor
On Friday, May 19, 2023, Isaac M. Wise Temple hosted an Evening of Appreciation and Shabbat Service in honor of Rabbi Karen Thomashow. After ten years as Associate Rabbi at Wise, Rabbi Thomashow begins her journey as Senior Rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Lexington, Massachusetts this summer. Many came to bid a fond farewell to Rabbi Thomashow before she embarks on this next chapter in her career.
The traditional evening service concluded with a moving sermon by Rabbi Thomashow, where she expressed her gratitude to her staff of colleagues as well as the congregants. “How do I feel this evening? Like a queen who counts the jewels in her coffers,” Rabbi Thomashow said, using the evening’s Torah portion as a metaphor to underscore her message of appreciation. “The period between Passover and Shavuot is where you count up, because everything that happens in our lives is additive,” Thomashow said. “You have given me the foundation to move into a senior position.”
Rabbi Kamrass followed the sermon with a tribute where he praised Rabbi Thomashow for “serving with such distinction and dedication at Wise.”
“She has become our friend as well as our rabbi,” Kamrass expressed, adding, “She lives what she teaches.”
Other highlights of the evening included a candle lighting ceremony where Rabbi Thomashow’s family was invited to the pulpit, a presentation by president David Snyder, and even playfulness on the pulpit between Rabbis Kamrass and Thomashow as he comically tried to foil her attempt to address everyone personally by switching seats behind her back. By the end of the evening, the congregation had shared both laughter and tears.
Ordained in 2007 from Hebrew Union College, Thomashow spent the first six years of her career in Toronto, where her daughter was born. Wanting to raise their daughter in the United States, Thomashow and her husband began the process of looking for a position back in the States. That’s when she saw the opening at Wise. Returning to Cincinnati, and Wise Center in particular, was a sort of homecoming since she had taught at Wise during her time at HUC. Accepting a position as Associate Rabbi allowed Thomashow the opportunity to partner with others and establish numerous initiatives. “I don’t like to say they were mine,” Thomashow says. “I like to say I had the professional privilege of working with lots of members of the congregation to bring these initiatives to life.” Some of these initiatives include reinvigorating YOFI engagement and creating a lobby play space and installing a new playground. She’s also proud of the latest iteration of congregant care, which includes aging at Wise and involves cohort groups that discuss what it means to be aging and Jewish, as well as the partnership between Wise and Zion Temple, the first Pentecostal church that now occupies the building that housed Wise before its move to Wise Center. Together, they collaborate on events to share their share their histories with the community.
When asked about her time in Cincinnati, Thomashow reflects on how much she and her family have enjoyed living here. “I will miss how many awesome things there are to do here. There are so many religious and secular activities for families in the city. The Jewish community is tight, and I’ll miss all the people who have made Cincinnati home. Wise Temple has also been home not just to myself, but to my family as well. Leaving is bittersweet.”
Having spent a decade in service as Associate Rabbi, Thomashow felt that now was a good time to seek out a senior position. She explains that every opportunity she’s had here will strengthen her work going forward. Temple Isaiah is at a younger stage in their congregational life, and she looks forward to helping shape her new community through organic community building. It also allows her the opportunity to move closer to her family.
Her new temple explains that they hired her because, “We see in Rabbi Thomashow a spiritual leader who can inspire, motivate, and innovate, not only because of her great intellect and integrity, but because of her deep and genuine caring and compassion. She sees her role as a rabbi as being ‘a partner, a catalyst for growth, a companion, and a maker of meaning.’”