Temple Beth Elohim was full of surprises for Rabbi Ben Rosen. Having spent his entire life—growing up, going to college, and going to rabbinical school in relatively small midwestern towns—he surprised himself by even applying to TBE, which he did on the advice of a trusted mentor. He envisioned that a huge congregation would be impersonal; he’d never know everyone’s names and it would be a “b’mitzvah factory.”
His second surprise was how much he liked TBE! It stood out among his other interviews for the warmth, quiet confidence, and authenticity he felt from the interviewing committee. “There are people I would like to learn from and work with.”
By the time he arrived in Wellesley for his in-person interview, he got his third surprise. “I fell in love.” Everything about TBE matched what was important to him: community, justice, music. He told his wife Tess, “I couldn’t say no if I am offered this position.” For the first time in all his experience with synagogues, he discovered that he could have a deep and meaningful prayer experience while he was leading a service—the biggest surprise of all.
Like all of our rabbis, Ben divides his time between congregational work and specific portfolios assigned to him. He is the school rabbi for Havayah, our Grades 8-12 program that suffered somewhat during the pandemic but is now growing again. The biggest cohort is the 8th and 9th graders, who overflowed the bimah when they had a High Holy Day aliyah. He is also the rabbinic presence for B’Yachad, for grades 6 and 7, where he can build relationships that will carry on through Havayah.
He loves the teens because he feels that they are not “calcified” in a single way of thinking about Judaism, and that he can impart the message that Judaism is theirs to mold in a way that speaks to them, just as the ancient rabbis did.
Ben was trained in classical music but at some point decided that he did not want to pursue that career; it became just a job. He didn’t want to be “pigeon-holed as that guy who sang,” and, when he applied to HUC, it was the rabbinic track that called him. While he loves to add his voice to Shanna’s and Josh’s, it is “heaven” to be part of the music but not running it.
Ben and his wife Tess aren’t sure when they first met. They and their siblings were part of the same crowd in high school, so their paths crossed frequently. When she was entering her senior year and he was a year from going to Jerusalem while entering rabbinical school, their paths crossed for the last time, because they almost immediately became a couple with a life to plan. After a difficult year apart, she worked as a teacher to help put him through school, and now she is fulfilling her lifelong dream of writing a novel. She is also teaching a few hours a week at TBE’s religious school.
Ben will be installed by mentor Rabbi Jan Katzew, PhD, during Shabbat services on Friday, March 1, 2024.
This post was written by TBE congregant Carol Clingan after interviewing Rabbi Rosen.