Retiring Barrington rabbi looks back and ahead

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When Rabbi Andrew Klein announced his retirement from Temple Habonim 18 months ago, June 2020 seemed a long way away. Now, with his retirement looming, he’s looking forward to the next chapter in his life after 13 years of leading the Barrington congregation.

The last few months on the job have been quite different than Klein had imagined.

“This is not the way I’d planned on leaving,” he says, referring to the coronavirus pandemic shuttering the building on New Meadow Road and putting programming, worship services and everything else associated with the vibrant congregation online.

In fact, we recently talked via Zoom – not what we planned when we first discussed an interview back in February.

Klein came to Temple Habonim in 2007, following in the footsteps of Rabbi James Rosenberg, who had served the congregation for 33 years. Klein calls Rosenberg an “exemplary rabbi emeritus: He and [rebbetzin] Sandy were gone for a whole year, which allowed me to establish myself with the congregation.”

Following this standard practice for congregations that are part of the Reform movement’s Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), Klein and his husband, Adam Mastoon, will also step away from Temple Habonim for the year following his retirement to give the new rabbi, Howard Voss-Altman, time to establish himself.

But Klein isn’t leaving Rhode Island.

“Adam and I like it here in Rhode Island. Our plan is to stay here. We feel our spiritual home is at Temple Habonim,” he said.

“I have very mixed emotions,” about retirement, Klein said. “I feel sad at not having a role in the community, but I feel like it’s the right time to pull back.

“I’m almost 70. I didn’t want to stay until I was worn out. I’ve been functioning in an active way. This is a very, very full-time job.”

He added, “Just as the temple was ready for a new phase when I came, after 13 years, I think Temple Habonim is ready for a new phase now.”

Klein said that one of the attractions of Temple Habonim was its stability and sense of community.

He hopes he’s been able to enhance that community.

“We have been able to create a worship experience that almost always leaves me feeling calmer, more grounded, more centered in life. I’m grateful for just being able to lead services in this community. I’m one of those people who is fortunate enough to be able to go to work and have that happen. I want to provide that for other people.”

When he first started as rabbi at Temple Habonim, Klein held a series of home meetings to get to know the congregants. Now, he has scheduled individual meetings to say goodbye – but they have moved from the planned in-person get-togethers to Zoom meetings. Still, he said he’s coming away with the feeling that the congregants are making a one-on-one connection.

“People appreciate being accepted in all ways and at all levels of diversity and Jewishness,” Klein said.

Rabbi Klein came to Temple Habonim after six years at the Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. That congregation was the first for the rabbi, who was ordained at age 49. In 1996, at the age of 44, he began rabbinical school at the New York City campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform movement’s seminary. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

“I knew I wanted to be a rabbi in the ’60s, in high school,” he said. But HUC-JIR didn’t accept gay and lesbian students until the ’90s.

Klein had been active in the youth group of his home temple in San Antonio, Texas. The Sisterhood there sent him to a leadership institute at the URJ Kutz Camp in New York (which closed last year).

“I was a camper there in June 1967 [right after the Six-Day War]. There was such pride and fervor for Judaism and Israel. That was transformative.”

Before entering rabbinical school, Klein taught elementary school in Houston and also ran a business.

While at Temple Habonim, Klein has been active in Barrington interfaith clergy activities and local social justice initiatives, and on the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, where he served as secretary and treasurer.

Asked about his plans for retirement, Klein says he’s spent more time and energy finishing up at Habonim than thinking ahead. But he knows that he’d like to work on living more in the moment. And he looks forward to spending more time with Adam, who is still working as an artist, author and educator addressing issues of equality and inclusion.

The Temple Habonim community will say farewell to Rabbi Andrew Klein on June 12 with an online Shabbat evening service. A farewell celebration is being planned for a later date.

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.