Sarah Rubin, the new part-time rabbi of the Havurah, said her fondness of the Pacific Northwest dates back to her childhood. She remembers long summers on Vashon, surrounded by family and friends, and hot days spent at Camp Sealth where she was later a counselor.
“To be in the Jewish community here, it is really an honor,” she said.
Rubin noted that the island resonates with many, often for the same reasons — it’s a wonderful place for children to grow up, with a level of privacy, sense of belonging and way of life that few know anywhere else.
“The Havurah is very much like that: Everybody contributes in whatever way they can, and they know each other very well, support each other and help raise families,” she said. “We’re hoping more [young families] will find their way to the community.”
As a girl, Rubin said her primary education was founded in tradition, but she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology, minoring in medical sciences. As part of her research, she excavated human remains at archeological sites in Jerusalem and along the Euphrates River in Turkey to understand burial practices and patterns of arthritis in monks.
Rubin’s research and faith collided as questions about the study’s ethics arose and whether concerns about excavating the dead were warranted.
“There was a certain part of the academic community willing to face that question, but also a large part that said, ‘It’s science for the sake of science,’” she said, adding that she was humbled by those considerations and ultimately drawn back into work among the living.
Peter Rubin, a member of the Havurah with no relation to the rabbi, said Rubin’s compassion distinguished her as they conducted a search for a rabbi to lead services.
“There’s a strong foundation of social generosity in Hebrew,” he said. “There is a principle in Hebrew — Tikkun Olam, meaning ‘repairing the world,’ and so we were looking for a rabbi that could connect with the social change and intentions of the Jewish group here,” he said.
At the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, new part-time rector Sarah Colvin had to call upon her own reserves of patience and empathy as a deputy physician in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Washington, D.C.
“Most people think, ‘Oh I couldn’t do that,’” said Colvin, a Washington native who was ordained in 2014 from the Virginia Theological Seminary and moved to the island this fall. “The part that actually gives you stress is dealing with families.”
Providing loved ones with the information they needed was a particularly delicate challenge, said Colvin, who felt a personal responsibility for the dignity of the individuals in her ward who had died.
“You go into medicine because you want to help people, and that aspect of medicine helps with justice and answering the questions of the living,” she said.
Colvin said she felt most helpful when she was able to provide information that brought a sense of closure to grieving loved ones and helped people face some of the worst days of their lives.
“It really hit me that I need to work with the living,” she said, adding that she was most interested in essential questions about purpose. “How do you live, how do you live fully, how do you help the living on this journey? I said that’s where I needed to be.”
Colvin said she would urge the curious to give the Episcopal Church a chance.
“This particular church has a big heart and I think [parishioners] are really going to find themselves. I’m looking forward to spending time with them,” she said.
Brenda Misel, a church member who led the search process, said Colvin’s openness proved to be crucial in her selection for the position.
“One of the things that was really important was that the terms learners and seekers had come up,” she said. “We were looking for someone not just to lead us, but to learn with us.”
After an engaging Skype interview, it was clear the church had found someone to do just that.
“She just seemed tailor-made for our parish,” said Misel. “We all just kind of chuckle about it; it was definitely God’s will that she came to us. It was quite remarkable.”
The Havurah will host a Torah Study this Sat. at 9:30 a.m. at 15401 Westside HWY SW. The Episcopal church will hold regular eucharist services beginning at 8 a.m Sunday at 15420 Vashon HWY SW.