Rabbi Tom Samuels is Beth Shalom’s first full-time spiritual leader. (photo from OJC)
Okanagan Jewish Community’s Beth Shalom Synagogue recently welcomed Rabbi Tom Samuels to be the organization’s first full-time spiritual leader.
Established in 1980, the OJC has flourished in recent years. While the community has benefited from the leadership of semi-retired, student and visiting rabbis over the years, the membership felt that the time was ripe to bring a permanent presence to their bimah.
As a pluralistic congregation, Beth Shalom welcomes Samuels, a non-denominational rabbi with experience across the spectrum of Jewish movements. Originally from Ontario, Samuels most recently has served several roles in the Chicago area – as rabbi at the McHenry County Jewish Congregation and as rabbi-in-residence at a K-12 interfaith school in Chicago.
Samuels joins Chabad’s Rabbi Shmueli Hecht as a leader of the Jewish presence in the region. The Okanagan Valley is home to roughly 2,000 Jews.
“I’m excited to help this incredibly eclectic, diverse and spiritual community go deeper into their Jewish voices,” said Samuels.
The rabbi prefers to connect with people where they’re most comfortable, and is ready to share his comprehensive spiritual insights at the shul, the corner coffee shop or on a lakeside hiking trail. He incorporates a rich musicality and a thoughtful approach to tradition into his teaching.
The OJC’s rabbi search committee spent the better part of three years looking for the best candidate.
“It’s exciting to finally have our very own full-time rabbi who lives in Kelowna,” reflected committee chair Adam Tizel. “Even with the challenges that come with pandemic times, he really inspires and helps keep us be cohesive. We look forward to seeing more people join our increased offering of events.”
Abbey Westbury is a member of Beth Shalom Synagogue.