Howard Voss-Altman is settling into his new role as rabbi of Temple Habonim, in Barrington.
No stranger to Rhode Island, Voss-Altman was the senior rabbi at Temple Beth-El, in Providence, for five years. Now, he says he’s looking forward to leading a smaller, more intimate congregation.
First and foremost, Voss-Altman said, he hopes to continue the warm and welcoming atmosphere that Rabbi Andrew Klein and Rabbi James Rosenberg built over 40 years at Habonim.
Rabbi Voss-Altman’s tenure began July 1. Because of the coronavirus, temple activities continue virtually, including worship.
“I expected to have a normal transition,” Rabbi Voss-Altman said. “I don’t have a new culture to learn. I’m familiar with the Jewish community.”
But, as we’ve all learned, a virtual community is a little different.
“For me, the hardest part is that I can’t greet our congregants,” he said. “For rabbis, that’s particularly challenging. That means no giving hugs, shaking hands.”
Rabbi Voss-Altman said his challenge will be to keep congregants engaged until everyone can come together again.
“Our work is going to be defined by our ability to keep people engaged virtually,” he said. “We are at a crossroads [in Judaism]. We need greater engagement with Jewish identity. I hope we can establish programming to create that engagement.”
He continued, “I feel very privileged to be able to represent the Jewish people in the Reform movement in such a heimish [friendly, familiar] and beautiful community.”
He expressed gratitude for the friendship and mentorship of Rabbis Klein and Rosenberg, as well as Temple Beth-El’s Rabbi Emeritus, Leslie Y. Gutterman.
“I love Rhode Island,” said Rabbi Voss-Altman, who grew up in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and spent 13 years as rabbi of B’nai Tikvah in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “I love the quality of life here. We love our neighbors. When this opportunity came up, it enabled our family to stay in Rhode Island and to stay in touch.”
Rabbi Voss-Altman and his wife, Annie Voss-Altman, will continue to live in the East Side of Providence. They have three children: Adi is a senior at Classical High School, Judah is in college and Emilie has graduated college and is working.
In announcing Voss-Altman’s hiring to the community, Temple Habonim issued a statement saying, “We look forward to a partnership in spirituality, in Jewish education for all ages, in social justice advocacy, and in nurturing the connection that helps define Temple Habonim.”
Rabbi Voss-Altman was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati. He is a member of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island and serves on the board of the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty. He has been an advocate for legislation on behalf of public health and safety, fair wages, and fair housing, among other issues.
FRAN OSTENDORF (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.