Traditional temple

Rabbi Amy Wallk, honored for 15 years at Temple Beth El, ‘loves the job, what I do’

SPRINGFIELD — A celebration at Temple Beth El on Sunday honored Rabbi Amy S. Wallk for her leadership there and raised more than $100,000 for the conservative Jewish synagogue whose origins in the city date back to 1912.

The Crystal Concert Celebration highlighted Wallk’s accomplishments over the past 15 years, including a merger with a small conservative congregation. The event also highlighted his success in energizing the community at a time of declining attendance at places of worship across the country.

“Rabbi Wallk revitalized our adult education program and rebuilt our sense of community, playing a vital role in our successful 2009 merger with Congregation B’nai Jacobsaid Dr. Stuart Anfang, former president of Beth El who chaired the 2008 search committee that hired Wallk. “Over the past two years, she has led our transformation into a bustling center for virtual programming, nurturing our community in these tumultuous times.”

Community is a key word in Wallk’s vocabulary. It was his aim to be with the crowd of over 250 at the celebratory event which included a concert by Cantor Magda Fishman, who has performed extensively in this country and abroad, and entertainment by the Shalom Orchestra.

“It’s not about me and my being here for 15 years,” Wallk said. “It’s about celebrating our community and how we have intentionally recreated ourselves to match and respond to changing times. Demographic challenges, economic challenges, pandemic challenges. I’m proud of us, not me.

She added, “You can’t lead alone, you have to have people walking with you on the walk, and I’m so proud of my professional staff at Beth El and our members who feel deeply rooted in the congregation and the community”.

“We at Beth El are an agile community that allows us to adapt to changing circumstances, we are a welcoming community, and we are a caring and compassionate community,” Wallk said.

Wallk was chosen as Beth El’s spiritual leader over nine other nominees — a unanimous decision by the search committee that also made her the first female rabbi of a Greater Springfield synagogue. She arrived in Springfield from Kansas, where she had been an associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City, with her first husband and the couple’s three children.


At the time of her installation, Wallk, now 60, said she would not make being a woman the “center of her leadership”, but noted that looking at the world, “the goals that I use are those of a woman because that is what I have been for 46 years.

She also spoke at the time of a desire from an early age to lead a life “that would make a difference” in the lives of others, which attendees of the evening which opened with cocktails and s ended with a dessert buffet said to occur regularly under his direction.

“What I love about the rabbi’s leadership is his constant focus on making traditional ideas relevant and timely,” said Dr. Michelle Anfang, president of Beth El, of Wallk, who holds a doctorate in education. and a master’s degree in journalism and Jewish education.

“She is an exceptional teacher who is able to weave contemporary issues and situations with ancient discussions of these same issues in our Jewish texts. Her creative approach makes Judaism applicable to real life. As a wife, mother and daughter, she also brings her own understanding of life’s issues into the discussion, giving it authenticity.

His words found an echo in the tributes job about Wallk on the event’s website, where it was also livestreamed, and in the thoughts of others at the Sunday night event.

Iris Linson, a member of the organizing committee, called Wallk “a special gift to us at Beth El and to the Jewish community and the community as a whole.” The celebration honoring Wallk received “responses and donations from around the world from friends and colleagues who have tremendous respect for her.”

“We have Rabbi Wallk’s best package,” Linson said. “She is flexible. She understands that practicing Judaism is different for everyone. She is not dogmatic in her approach. It affects many people who are stylistically a little different.

Wallk said that early in her leadership at Beth El she would use “language that said we are establishing a presence for Conservative Judaism in Western Massachusetts and my goal was to unite our community and see what we were doing together to create one.”

“We are an aging congregation, but not a dying congregation, and we need to figure out how to age gracefully.”

She said this approach has helped Beth El find ways to provide better outreach to members in need of support, make educational programs financially viable by sharing speakers with other congregations, and make certain staff positions. , like that of Cantor Elise Barber, whom Wallk describes as having the voice “that sings the heavens open” part-time.

“She’s extraordinarily talented and beloved,” Wallk said. “Having him part-time allows us to have cantorial music that we can enjoy a lot, if not all the time.”

Synagogue traditions include high standards for such music. Its renovated shrine is named after the late Morton Shames, an internationally renowned cantor who served the synagogue for nearly five decades.

The key to Beth El’s evolution, Wallk said, was that “we didn’t just shut down in the middle of COVID.”

“We said we had to rethink who we are, how we are and what we do and we did a great job,” Wallk said. “Now people come together to participate in a twice-daily service via Zoom, led by myself and the Reverend David Aminia, our ritual director for many years, where we can accommodate up to 25 people.”

She added that her current language is about “a vibrant community and that’s important because it helps people feel connected, to feel the power of community and what Jewish community can bring to them.”

“People feel seen and heard and feel like we’re taking care of them,” she said.

Wallk said she encourages her congregation, which recently held an event to introduce young children to the observance of Shabbat which attracted about sixty people, to respond to rise of anti-Semitism continuing to “proudly practice Judaism”.

“I think the way to empower people is to help them be proud of who their congregation is and what we do,” Wallk said. “That’s the key. Anti-Semitism is a virus that lurks for no good reason. The best we can do is continue to practice Judaism with pride and authenticity and be who we are in the way we believe. .

Wallk has many markers that measure his own evolution over the past 15 years. Some relate to serving a population that has retired and been “very, very hard hit” by COVID.

“When I first came and shared a eulogy, it was about making a call, being with people, hearing their story and writing it down,” Wallk said. “Now so many times when I go to a funeral I know the person and have had my own experiences with them. I recently gave a eulogy for a woman using a letter she wrote to me It’s tough, but it’s also an honor to help a family through these dark and difficult times.

One of Wallk’s children is a college graduate doing research, another is in law school with plans to marry in the coming year, and the youngest is in college. and studies communications.

Wallk divorced in 2015 and she recently married Rabbi Mark Cohn, who moved here last month from North Carolina where he had been the longtime rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem. The two men met in 2017 during a three-week summer seminar on rabbinical leadership at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Wallk, now a senior, no longer bikes 30 miles at a time, but incorporates some form of fitness, whether walking on a treadmill, doing Pilates or lifting weights into his daily routine. Born in Chicago and having worked in the Midwest and studied on both coasts, she is happy where she is, knowing that all communities have their challenges.

“I love Judaism, teaching it to people and helping people find their way while thinking about how the institution should position itself,” Wallk said. “I have so many blessings and so much to be grateful for. I can’t believe where I am professionally and personally. It’s been a long road, but I thank God for where I am.

She added, “I’ve lived this lovely, wonderful life.”

“I love my job and what I do,” Wallk said.

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