Serving Winnipeg's Jewish Community Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn Youtube

Bill TepperIntroduction: Elsewhere on this website ( we have the first part of an interview we had conducted with Rabbi Bill Tepper of Temple Shalom on January 19.

That segment of the interview told how Rabbi Tepper had come to the momentous decision to become a rabbi after having been a high school English and Drama teacher for 15 years.
We left off with Rabbi Tepper one evening just having told his wife Deborah and son Max of his interest in studying to become a rabbi.  If you didn’t read the first part of the interview with Rabbi Tepper and would like to read it, it is on our website: Following is the second - and final part, of that interview:

Rabbi Tepper was 44 at the time he made the life-altering decision to prepare for becoming a rabbi.
“What about the financial sacrifice that you were going to have to make?” I wondered.
With a smile in his voice, he noted that “just because we all agreed that evening doesn’t mean there weren’t some anxious moments wondering whether what we were doing was the right thing. What we did was: We sold our house. We were very fortunate in selling our house in Midtown Toronto. We lived near Bathurst and St. Clair in Toronto.”
Rabbi Tepper explained that his application to Hebrew Union College was subsequently accepted – in 2003, and preparations were then made to begin studying for the rabbinate.

“So, we sold our house and we sold our car – and we did it.”
“You said you went to Israel first?” I asked.
“Yes, we were required to go to Israel. All first-year students at Hebrew Union College go together to the campus in Jerusalem. Some of my classmates had spouses or partners and children as well. There were 65 of us in the class.”

Following that year in Israel, Rabbi Tepper, along with his wife and son, moved to Cincinnati for four years, where they rented a house.
“My son attended and graduated from high school (in Cincinnati), I was full-time in rabbinical school, and my wife commuted to work in Toronto. We managed okay.”

While he was in rabbinical school, Rabbi Tepper said that he also had placements in other communities at various times – in Indiana, in Dallas, and “in a small coal-mining town in West Virginia with eight Jewish families – and they still had their temple because once upon a time that community had had 100 Jewish families.”
“You must have a lot of frequent flyer points,” I suggested.

“You’ve been a rabbi since 2008?” I asked.
“Correct,” Rabbi Tepper answered.
“And you were eight years in Chattanooga?”| I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve been back in Canada for two years; in March it will be exactly two years.”
“And you’re now at Holy Blossom Temple?”| asked.
“Correct,” Rabbi Tepper said, “but I’m not a rabbi there. I’m a member of the teaching faculty there. I’m also a member of the teaching faculty in Hamilton at its Reform temple – Anshe Shalom” he added. “Here though (at Winnipeg’s Temple Shalom) is where I’m the rabbi.”

I said to Rabbi Tepper that, during a joint interview that I held with both Rabbis Maas and Leibl after they were newly ordained, I asked them in what ways having the title of rabbi conferred upon them might change their relationships with their congregants. I asked both of them, for instance, whether they now expected to be doing more counseling than they had been doing.
I noted that I was surprised to learn that neither rabbi expected counseling to be a major part of their duties. So, I asked Rabbi Tepper, whether that was the same with him?
He answered that counselling certainly forms a part of his duties. But I was curious what are his other duties as a rabbi who wears several different hats.

“I also do private tutoring for B’nai Mitzvah students in Toronto,’ Rabbi Tepper noted. “And I have served as guest rabbi at a number of congregations in the Greater Toronto area; I’ve given sermons and taught classes.”
“It’s when I come to Winnipeg though that I’m a rabbi – and it’s been very, very satisfying. I counsel, teach, guide services, attend meetings, spend time with the teenagers, participate Sunday mornings with the religious school (Irma Penn School) students. I lead Saturday evening program that includes Havdallah. I also do visitations as needed. And I am working with Conversion to Judaism candidates. All of this I try and do from Thursday when I arrive until Sunday when I depart. As well, I try and stay in touch n via email or texting – with Conversion candidates, the lay leadership, and with (Cantor) Len Udow.
“You may know that on Fridays I send out a message on the Temple’s Facebook page. I don’t do it when I’m here, but it’s a way of connecting when I’m not here.”

Rabbi Tepper went on to note that, since he’s been at Temple Shalom, he has officiated at one Bat Mitzvah and two marriages. I asked him though, whether Len Udow still officiates at some life cycle events, as he has done off and on through the years in the absence of a full-time rabbi.
“It is my understanding that he does,” Rabbi Tepper answered.

“But, that leads me to wonder,” I said, “do you actually need a rabbi to perform a marriage ceremony in Jewish law?”
Rabbi Tepper pondered his response, saying: “I’m not going to say anyone (can perform a marriage ceremony), but someone who receives permission from the Ministry of Social Services can. He or she can be a member of the clergy, but that opportunity is also available to many other people. But, for a Jewish ceremony there continues to be the expectation it would be a rabbi or a cantor who will officiate.”

I noted though, that before he became a rabbi, Matthew Leibl had been performing Jewish marriage ceremonies, also intermarriage ceremonies. I wondered, therefore, whether, as the Shaarey Zedek had been becoming increasingly liberal in terms of acceptance of norms that had previously been considered outside the bounds of acceptable practices within its congregation, such as gay marriages, the Shaarey Zedek hadn’t “out reformed” Temple Shalom? (Perhaps that was an unfair question to put to a rabbi who might not be all that familiar with Winnipeg’s Jewish community’s history, but I put it to Rabbi Tepper anyway.)

“There’s been some movement back and forth between the congregations,” I suggested.
“That’s not uncommon for families,” Rabbi Tepper responded. “It’s so important for families – and individuals to feel comfortable where they are. There are those who are comfortable in the same congregation for their entire lives. They would never think of leaving; they would never think of ‘crossing the street’, so to speak.
“However, these days – and it’s often when a life cycle event comes into play that families or individuals feel that they have specific needs and perhaps when those needs are not being met – they’ll say ‘good bye’. They’ll go to the other synagogue, they’ll go to the other temple.
“I should share something with you though – and it wouldn’t surprise me if the situation is the same in Winnipeg is that when you have a small community – the community that I served in Chattanooga was a total of between 1400 and 1500 Jews – not families – individual Jews, so that translated into a few hundred families.
“It was not uncommon for people in that community – and it wouldn’t surprise me if the same were here in Winnipeg, even though it’s larger than Chattanooga, is that there are families that belong to more than one congregation. They belong to the Reform and the Conservative because the community is so small you also have intermarriage – and not intermarriage between two faiths, but intermarriage where you have someone who grew up in the Reform Temple, met a person who grew up in the Conservative community, they got married, and they probably had both rabbis co-officiate, and they probably decided they’d like to belong to both.
“That was new for me, coming from Toronto where people tended to belong to one place for their whole lives.”

“How big was the Reform congregation in Chattanooga?” I asked.
“It was about 200 family units,” Rabbi Tepper said.

“Really?” I asked. “You said the entire Jewish community was only about 1400-1500.”
“Yes,” Rabbi Tepper continued. “We had several hundred members in our congregation and the Conservative synagogue had about the same number.”

“Was there an Orthodox synagogue?” I asked.
“There was Chabad,” Rabbi Tepper explained.
“That’s remarkable,” I suggested. “A very high proportion of the Jews of Chattanooga belonged to one synagogue movement or another.”
“A lot of the people whom I met belonged to one or another of the synagogues – or both,” Rabbi Tepper observed, “and it made for a lot of very meaningful, collaborative opportunities – coming together for Yom Ha’atsmaut, coming together for Yom Hashoah, also… getting back to funerals, I found myself co-officiating with the Conservative rabbi, also the Chabad rabbi.”
“The Chabad rabbi would co-officiate with you, a Reform rabbi?” I asked incredulously.
“I said there were people who had feet in more than one camp and they had a relationship with the Chabad rabbi” (as well as with Rabbi Tepper), he explained.
“It didn’t happen very often, but it happened a couple of times,” Rabbi Tepper noted. “We always worked it out. It’s the nature of the community.”

Toward the end of our conversation, Rabbi Tepper mentioned there was something he wanted to share with me: “My wife (Deborah) is from Winnipeg and her entire family is also from Winnipeg. Her mother’s maiden name is Gaber and her father’s name is Schechter. She was here until she was about five when the family moved to B.C., but she always came here because her grandparents, her aunts and uncles, and her cousins were here. Her grandparents had a lunch spot near Portage and Main.”

Rabbi Tepper related that when he came to Winnipeg and Temple Shalom this past October for Yom Kippur, he brought his wife and son with him. “We took a drive up to the north end,” he said, and saw the house she lived in until she was five, also, both her grandparents’ homes. All three houses were within walking distance of one another.
“Things happen for a reason. It turns out my wife’s grandparents had come here over 100 years ago.”

“So, what does the future hold for you vis-à-vis your relationship with Temple Shalom?” I wondered.
“I’m coming back for 2018 and 2019,” Rabbi Tepper answered. “I’ll continue to do what I’m doing in Toronto, being a teacher, but what I love doing is being a congregational rabbi (which is what he is in Winnipeg)
 – connecting with people, being with them during joyous times, and during grievous times as well…doing counseling, doing life cycle events, also – as I put forth in my weekly messages – sharing my passion about an array of issues: education, social justice, celebrating our Judaism, caring for one another, reaching out to the larger Jewish and non-Jewish communities, and helping to create the experience of belonging. It’s about how we should be living our lives as Jews and how we should be living our lives as people.
“It’s such a whole experience that we rabbis and I are able to share in a congregation. I just love doing it.”


Add comment

Security code