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Connecting People to Prayer; Emily Ilana Losben ’99

Emily Losben '99

When Emily Ilana Losben ’99 was in the sixth grade she attended Hebrew school. She remembers it as if it were yesterday. Why? Because that’s when she decided she would dedicate her life’s work to making Hebrew school fun for others.

Losben fulfilled her dream in May 2008 when she received her rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Now, Losben is the first female rabbi at Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, N.Y., a Reform congregation that was founded in 1948 and is now home to more than 100 families.

As rabbi, in addition to conducting services, Losben officiates at baby naming ceremonies, weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs; visits congregants in nursing homes and hospitals; serves as counselor; writes sermons, and teaches Hebrew school where she is living up to her promise to “make it fun” by incorporating singing, dancing, food and hands-on experiences into the lessons. “Once when teaching about Israel, I had all the kids wash their hands with soap from the Dead Sea. I couldn’t take them to Israel, but I could do my best for them to have a ‘feel’ of what it’s like.”

Losben also helps develop and run programs, an area she is hoping to grow. Some of the programs she has already initiated include monthly lunch and learn sessions, a new book club and the planting of a community garden that will grow vegetables to benefit the needy.

“People see you at services once or twice a week and they wonder what else you do,” says Losben. But, “there’s a lot of behind the scenes work,” she says. Losben wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I get the most out of prayer,” she says, “when I’m able to help others connect to prayer and to God.”

The Sinai Reform Temple congregation has been extremely warm to her since her arrival in August, she says. “I was a little self-conscious at first thinking about how a 60-year-old man would relate to me. But what I’ve found is that as they talk to me about their battles, whether its cancer, work, family… it’s easy to step into that role. Every rabbi brings something different to the pulpit, but as a female I bring a different air for them.”

Losben’s work as a representative for the Jewish community actually began while attending Albright. In addition to serving as co-president of Hillel, she worked at Congregation OHeb Shalom in Reading, Pa., where she taught Hebrew school and advised the youth group.

Continuing on to graduate and rabbinical school, Losben received a master’s degree in Hebrew letters from Hebrew Union College and a master’s in educational administration from Xavier University.

While in rabbinical school, Losben also spent a year in Israel. The time she spent there deepened her connection to Israel and to Judaism. “It gave me a sense of having a homeland,” she says. “I’m a proud American, but it’s nice to have another part of the world I can claim as my own.”

But it’s at Sinai Reform Temple where she says she’s found a family. “It’s such a warm and friendly place. It’s perfect, especially as my first pulpit, because there’s room for it to grow in membership and programmatically. The congregation is small enough that it really feels like a family.”

The positive feeling is mutual. Losben’s congregation is happy to have her on board. In an article in Bay Shore’s local newspaper The Beacon on September 18, 2008, Marian Kent, a long-time member of Sinai Reform Congregation said, “Rabbi Losben…has so much to offer us with her personality, education and experience. We are truly fortunate to have her as our rabbi.”

– Jennifer Post Stoudt

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