For Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein, the dream of becoming a rabbi, according to a note that her eighth grade teacher wrote, began with her Bat Mitzvah. A college Simchat Torah celebration was so full of joy and life that she called her parents and told them she wanted to be a rabbi to bring that kind of joy to other people. While her parents recognized her teaching and leadership ability, they did not understand the religious dream. They imparted their passion about Jewish history and ethics, the will to survive, and the peoplehood of Judaism.
The 10 years she has been here as the spiritual leader of Congregation Kneseth Israel have been creative and fruitful. She has helped the congregation live out its vision statement of “Lifelong learning, meaningful observance, building community and embracing diversity.”
“Everything I do ties back to one of those four pillars. Whether it is teaching in the Torah School, planning new offerings for adult study, looking at Jewish law through modern eyes—yes, we were early adopters to Zoom technology during the pandemic—or being out in the community championing causes that reflect our Jewish values—we have managed to grow our community during very difficult times.”
Amongst the things that have been innovative have been her Java and Jews program where members and interested friends sit in a coffee shop or on Zoom and discuss the issues of the day. “You don’t have to drink coffee or be Jewish, just come and engage in meaningful conversation.” It is a way of building community and embracing the diversity that is Elgin and its surrounding communities.
“It is important for me to be visible. Not a week goes by where someone doesn’t say, ‘I didn’t know that there is a synagogue in Elgin.’ You don’t know whether you will find me in the office, sitting in a local coffee shop, at a rally, working in a soup kettle, or serving on a number of local non-profit boards.”
Because of her involvement in the wider community, she has been awarded the Community Crisis Center’s Partner in Peace award, the Martin Luther King, jr Humanitarian Award and the YWCA’s Racial Justice award.
Since being in Elgin, Rabbi Frisch Klein has written two books, A Climbing Journey Towards Yom Kippur: The 13 Attributes of the Divine and Enduring Spirit: Learning to Thrive Again which is a workbook for Jewish victims of domestic violence and sexual trauma using the Jewish yearly cycle. She has also been featured in several national publications, Earth Etudes for Elul, Honey from the Rock, When We Turned Within vol 1 and 2 and All Who Can Protest. She blogs as the Energizer Rabbi, www.theenergizerrabbi.org
While she went into the rabbinate to be a social justice rabbi, a bridge builder and peace maker, she has found that explaining Judaism to people is critical to our world. “Whether they are members or not, every question is welcome. Every time I meet with a class from a local school or college or sit on a board or a police chaplain meeting explaining Judaism, I sharpen my own faith.” However, while her work on social justice topics continues, what is really important is being with people. Whether that is providing a manicure for someone on hospice, making deviled eggs for an in-person shiva, bringing a challah to homebound congregant, arranging for goodie bags during the pandemic and beyond, it is about listening to people’s stories. “It is about creating sacred time and space. It’s about teaching that Judaism has a place for everyone, created and loved by the Divine. Finding that love is how people find meaning and find joy.”
“Our spaces, wherever they are—in person or online—need to be warm and welcoming, non-judgmental and safe places for everyone to explore their Judaism. We need to engage people where they are and help them find meaning in our modern, complex world.”
Before living in Elgin with her husband Simon, together they owned a business doing graphic design and technical writing. That business led to a career as a strategy consultant for Fortune 500 technology companies that enabled her to travel internationally. She has a BA in American Studies and Hebrew Literature and an MEd in Teaching from Tufts University. An MA in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College and ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York rounds out her formal academic training but she remains committed to lifelong learning and professional development.
She and her husband love being back in the Midwest, hiking on the bike trails, running races to raise money for charities, visiting farmer’s markets and being engaged in the community. They have hiked together in 31 states and six countries. Simon is drawn to the mountains, Rabbi Margaret to the water. “Give me a Lake Michigan sunrise or sunset and I am a happy camper.” They are incredibly proud of their four adult children and three grandchildren and enjoy traveling to see them—in California, Florida, Massachusetts and Virginia but there never seems to be quite enough time.
Currently she serves on the board of the Association of Rabbis and Cantors, the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders, the Ascension St. Joseph’s Leadership board, the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Commission and as a police chaplain. She is accessible through the office, her personal cell phone, text, email, or Facebook Messenger.
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