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Saratoga Springs rabbis retiring after 36 years

Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein and Rabbi Linda Motzkin
Emma Dodge Hanson
Photo provided
Rabbis Jonathan Rubenstein and Linda Motzkin

The two rabbis at Saratoga Springs’ Temple Sinai are stepping down from leading the community congregation after more than 30 years. Their last service as co-leaders of the congregation was held on Saturday.

After 36 years, Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein and Rabbi Linda Motzkin will no longer head Saratoga Springs’ Temple Sinai, the reform congregation on Broadway that was founded in 1965.

The rabbis spoke with WAMC earlier this month. Rubenstein says the married couple came to the Spa City soon after being ordained in 1986 – when the congregation was only 21 years old.

“We came to Saratoga because we thought this was a wonderful place, that it would be a wonderful place to live and to raise our kids. And that turned out to be the case. So we have this deep sense of gratitude to the community and to our congregation, which has always been very supportive of us,” said Rubenstein.

Now, Rubenstein, 73, and Motzkin, 63, are retiring after leaving a mark on their community.

Motzkin says couple defied some expectations by co-leading a congregation and living as a family. The rabbi says the husband and wife complement each other.

“Everybody said, you know, ‘Any stress in the workplace is gonna spill into your home life, any stress at home is gonna spill into your work life. It's a really, really, really bad idea that we're together in the same congregation, even worse idea, the jobs share.’ But were kind of like, ‘Yeah, but you know, we think we want to give it a try,’” said Motzkin.

“We're both good at stress management. So it's true that those things, you know, mesh with each other, but the positives far outweighed, the sense of satisfaction gratification and fulfillment, far outweighed – both in our professional life and our family life – far outweighed the stresses,” said Rubenstein.

When they came to Temple Sinai, the tiny congregation only included about 60 households. There weren’t enough resources to hire a full-time rabbi, let alone two.

But the pair also found opportunities serving at other institutions, including Skidmore College, Four Winds Saratoga, and the now-closed Mount McGregor state prison.

“I was for 29 and a half years the Jewish chaplain at Skidmore College and Jonathan was for over 30 years, 35 years….starting as a chaplain at Four Winds psychiatric hospital, and then he became the director of pastoral care at Four Winds. He only worked for two or three years out Mount McGregor and then let go of that position because the Four Winds position shifted to being, you know, a larger position. But, you know, the temple was really small, and it grew with us. And that was our hope, because we knew that we needed to be able to earn more than one income for the two of us. We came here with one child and had two more kids that were born in this community,” said Motzkin.

Today, the congregation has expanded to more than 210 families and individual members, plus additions to the building itself.

Temple Sinai President Jerry Silverman says it’s “hard to overstate” what the rabbis have done to benefit Temple Sinai.

“They were groundbreaking in being a married couple sharing a single pulpit. They have a strong sense of helping the community, something that we call in Hebrew Tikun Olam, which is making the world a better place,” said Silverman.

As the rabbis retire, Silverman says Temple Sinai is searching for an interim leader.

“The interim rabbi will serve us for a year and act kind of as a consultant to guide us through the challenges of this transition,” said Silverman. “And then we'll hire a settled rabbi, which I don't call permanent because nothing is permanent. But it's a settled rabbi. We've received a number of applications, we've conducted, I think, five or six interviews and we're hoping to hire an interim rabbi perhaps in January or February.”

Though the rabbis will be retiring, they won’t be leaving Saratoga Springs. Rabbi Rubenstein will keep teaching breadmaking out of the temple’s kitchen and Rabbi Motzkin will continue to educate the community on crafting Torah scrolls — another aspect of Jewish life in which she is a trailblazer. And they’ll take some time to visit their children and grandchildren, too.

“We will be continuing to do the Bread and Torah and teaching and have several teaching gigs lined up over the next several months that will keep us very busy this spring,” said Motzkin.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.