Upper Valley Jewish Leader to Depart After Two Decades of Growth

  • Photographed in Hanover, N.H., on June 5, 2018, Rabbi Edward Boraz will be leaving the Roth Center for Jewish Life at Dartmouth College next month after a 20-year tenure as rabbi of the Upper Valley Jewish Community and Dartmouth Hillel Student Group.(Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Rev. Clare Overlander, of the West Lebanon Congregational Church, Sharif A. Rosen, the Muslim and multi-faith director of the Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth, and Rabbi Edward S. Boraz, of the Upper Valley Jewish Community, walk out after an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the West Lebanon Congregational Church in West Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 23, 2014. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rabbi Edward Boraz, top left, leads Dartmouth College students in kiddush during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, on Sept. 22, 2006, at the Roth Center in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Channing Johnson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rabbi Edward Boraz puts a restored torah away during a ceremony at Dartmouth College's Roth Center for Jewish Life in Hanover, N.H., on March 23, 2018. Boraz had the honor of writing in the very last letter on the torah. "It was an extraordinary honor on behalf of the community," Boraz said. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, June 08, 2018

Edward Boraz assumed the spiritual leadership of both the Upper Valley Jewish Community congregation and of Dartmouth College’s Hillel student group on July 1, 1998.

The new rabbi arrived in Hanover just as Dartmouth’s first Jewish president, James O. Freedman was nearing the end of his tenure, and the college’s Roth Center for Jewish Life was shiny and new.

Boraz oversaw a period of growth in both of the organizations he was hired to lead. His efforts have been such that it’s going to take two people to replace him when he departs what he called “the best rabbinate in the country” at the end of June and relocates to a smaller congregation in Wisconsin.

“You don’t think about that when you take the rabbinate,” Boraz said during an interview at the Roth Center on Monday. “To everyone’s credit, (the job) grew to the point where it was no longer sustainable. It needs to be changed. You feel as if you don’t have time to prepare for one or the other.

“You want to give 100 percent to each.”

Boraz had every hope of doing so in 1998, when he received his doctorate in religion at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati on the same day that the school conferred an honorary doctorate on Freedman.

“In thanking them,” Boraz recalled, “President Freedman joked that he was bringing a rabbi back to Dartmouth as well as a doctorate.”

At Dartmouth, Boraz right away saw good omens in the cooperation between college and congregation that made the Roth Center possible.

“People took so much pride in it,” Boraz recalled. “It was an opportunity for growth.”

While the congregation grew relatively modestly from 180 families to 193 today, Boraz said, it gained many parents “who had a yearning for more programming, for an emphasis on spirituality” for their young children.

Meanwhile, at Hillel, Boraz began seeing more students coming from Jewish prep schools “who wanted more from me in terms of intellectual guidance.” Toward that end, he established Project Preservation, a non-credit experiential-learning course that includes classroom studies on the Holocaust during the academic year followed by an annual service trip to Eastern Europe to restore cemeteries for small Jewish communities.

Providing such guidance required the endurance of a distance runner during the High Holy Days in September and October. Throughout his rabbinate, he has conducted four different services — including one each for adherents of the Reform movement of Judaism and one for Liberal Conservatives.

This past Memorial Day weekend, in a marathon that he described as “not unusual,” Boraz started with weekly services for the UVJC on Friday night and then hosted a Hillel dinner. On Saturday, he presided over a bar mitzvah and a wedding rehearsal. And on Sunday, he taught a class on genocide for Dartmouth students in his Project Preservation program, then conducted the wedding.

“He does (both jobs) so gracefully, so few people realize how hard it was for him,” UVJC education director Melissa Herman said last week, during an informal Dartmouth reception for Boraz at the center. “He tried to tell us, in his quiet way, the last few years, but no one would really get it until it was too late.”

Norwich resident Rusty Sachs, current president of the UVJC’s board of trustees, attests to Boraz’s skill at juggling both roles without seeming to struggle.

“When I first met him, he was just a delightful, charming mensch,” Sachs said. “He never gets flustered. He always approaches things with a fundamental kindness and decency.”

Rabbi Daveen Litwin, dean and chaplain of the college’s William Jewett Tucker Center for Spiritual Life, admired how Boraz approached Dartmouth undergraduates the same way.

“Rabbi Boraz built a vibrant, creative, welcoming, engaging Hillel for Jewish students, staff, faculty and the wider Dartmouth campus community through study, music, prayer and soulful teaching, listening and leading,” Litwin wrote during an exchange of emails on Thursday. “We will miss all of these gifts as well as his wise counsel, compassionate support for everyone in need, and caring presence.”

Litwin said that Goldstein, who has been serving as associate chaplain for Jewish life at Elon University in Elon, N.C., will continue to lead Project Preservation, which Boraz founded in 2000. The Tucker Center announced Goldstein’s hiring in June.

Sachs said that Melamut, rabbi of San Francisco’s Congregation B’nai Emunah since 2008, accepted the UVJC’s offer on June 1 and will start work on July 1.

“You wouldn’t believe how enthusiastic the new guy is,” Sachs said. “I give him an A right across the board on every quality I’d like to measure, except for sight reading of ancient text, and on that I give him a B-plus. He’s a very down-to-earth guy. He was born in the South, and lived for a year in Burlington and always wanted to come back to this part of the country. After all those years in San Francisco, he’s looking forward to not proceeding with his life in his hands every time he crossed the street.”

Boraz, who grew up in St. Louis and practiced civil rights and environmental law in Illinois before pursuing ordination in his late 30s, is also ready for a less hectic, yet spiritually meaningful life with Wausau, Wisc.’s Mount Sinai Congregation of 85 families.

“It’s important that you’re present for your congregation, and that you sense you’re being helpful at a particular moment in a person’s life,” he said. “I’ve had people from all walks of life come and speak to me. It furthered my own learning about the human condition. I’ve worked with people with this inner strength that, with a little help, they can confront things they need to confront.

“That lays the foundation for the next stage of life.”

For the last acts of the Hanover stage of his own life, Boraz will lead the closing prayer at Dartmouth’s baccalaureate service at Rollins Chapel this afternoon. And next week, he’ll lead his Project Preservation students first to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, then to a tiny Jewish community in Greece to restore a cemetery.

“Finishing that commitment, that will be a fitting end to my time here,” Boraz said. “We’ve never missed a trip in 17 years. The students don’t get any credit for taking the course, where the focus is on experiential learning and reflection. There are some things we should be doing for their own sake.

“That’s a powerful message.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.